It’s been a long time coming for Joe Thornton in his quest to hoist the Stanley Cup, and last night he and the San Jose Sharks got one step closer by punching their ticket to the big dance for the first time in franchise history. At 36, Thornton has played in over 1,300 NHL games and has been a star ever since he was taken with the first overall pick by the Boston Bruins in 1997. Over the course of his career he built up a reputation as a player who would play great in the regular season but would underachieve in the playoffs. After having several impressive seasons with the Bruins, he resigned with Boston in the summer of 2005 after playing overseas during the 2004-05 NHL lockout despite being extremely upset with the state of the team. The deal was for $20 million over three years, but he barely made it to thanksgiving with the B’s. Thornton was having a great year statistically with 33 points in 24 games, but the Bruins were not sharing the same success so they shipped Thornton out to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart to try and rebuild and the move gave the Sharks an opportunity to get over the hump and become title contenders.
The career of Joe Thornton has been nothing short of electric. In 1,367 career regular season games he has 377 goals and 964 assists with a +199 rating. These are hall of fame kind of numbers for the 6’4″ 220 lbs center but the playoffs are a different story. In 150 career playoff games, “Jumbo Joe” has 27 goals and 91 assists, but a -21 rating, including having more penalty minutes than points in the 2010 and 2011 Western Conference Finals. This has been the story of his career. The Boston media gave him a lot of grief during his days with the Bruins because of his lack of playoff production and it seems as if that reputation has stuck with him throughout his career. The most apparent season was following the 2014 season when the Sharks went into the postseason as one of the favorites to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. But in the first round, the Sharks built a 3-0 series lead against the in-state rival Los Angeles Kings and proceeded to lose the next four games and end their season with disappointment yet again. In 2015, the Sharks failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and many people thought that the Sharks window for winning was closing and that Jumbo Joe may need to go elsewhere to win a cup before his hall of fame career ends.
But this season has been one for the ages. Thornton made the decision to stick it out in San Jose despite many trade rumors that would see him in another uniform and he went to work for the Sharks with his best season since 2010 racking up 82 points including 63 assists and has lead the team to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in Jumbo Joe’s incredible career. Being in a smaller market in San Jose, Thornton’s illustrious career has flown somewhat under the radar. But the stars are aligning for the Sharks as they will face the winner of tonight’s Game 7 in Pittsburgh between the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Thornton is now only four wins away from a Ray Bourque caliber finish to an incredible career and hoisting up Lord Stanley’s Cup with one of the most epic playoff beards in NHL history.