ST. LOUIS — Joe Thornton couldn’t help himself.
The San Jose Sharks center was at the podium at Enterprise Center after their 5-4 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. He scored twice in the victory as did defenseman Erik Karlsson, who was sitting to his right.
The question was posed to Karlsson: What have you learned from Thornton during your time in San Jose?
Before he could answer, Thornton did it for him.
“Nothing,” Thornton said, igniting laughter throughout the room.
Thornton, who turns 40 in July, is the first to admit he’s not what he used to be. He’s predominantly playing on the fourth line these days, along with time on the second power-play unit. Inside the Sharks dressing room, he’s looked to for leadership, for his teaching ability and, as he showed in front of the microphone after the win, for bringing humor to the table and keeping things loose.
At the same time, he still has the ability to produce flashes of raw skill that serve as a reminder that he is 14th on the NHL’s scoring list with 1,478 career points (413 goals, 1,065 assists).
Wednesday was one of those nights.
Thornton was a beast, scoring his third and fourth goals of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, then helping set up Logan Couture at 18:59 of the third period that tied the game 4-4.
Thornton was looking for retribution from the Sharks’ 4-2 loss in Game 2 at SAP Center. He was upset that he’d allowed Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo to get away from him for the decisive third goal.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer knew Thornton would rebound with a vengeance.
“This guy’s one of the greatest players of all time,” DeBoer said. “I know he wasn’t happy with his last game, and that’s a response you get from a Hall of Fame player. Wouldn’t have had a chance to win without him; the character and the response, the leadership.”
Thornton was asked what the key was to his three-point night.
“Work, work, work,” he said, using his words economically.
That was the recipe for success for Thornton and Karlsson, who played key roles in a win that gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 is at St. Louis on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).
As for what he’s learned from Thornton, Karlsson said there’s been plenty.
“He’s gone through it all and he’s still doing what he has to do for this team to be successful,” Karlsson said. “I think that speaks a lot about the character that he [has], and I think that that drives this team.”
For his part, Karlsson was able to get a monkey off his back; his goal at 13:37 of the first period was his first since a 7-4 win at the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 29, a span of 31 games.
But it was his second one that proved to be the difference maker. It came at 5:23 of overtime and sent the Sharks rushing from the bench to mob him.
“[Erik had] a huge, huge game,” DeBoer said. “Again, the guys we needed to step up tonight stepped up tonight; Joe Thornton, Erik Karlsson. … When you lose a game in the playoffs, the response game, you need your best players to be your best players.”