Do not call him Regular (Season) Joe any more.

Finally, in the dying seconds of regulation time last night, Joe Thornton proved he can indeed do some damage in the post-season.

With relentless puck pursuit and puckhandling in the Flames’ zone, and overtime seeming certain, Thornton restored some teeth into the Sharks’ attack by scoring with 9.4 seconds left in regulation time and giving San Jose a 3-2 victory.

The best-of-seven, first-round series is now tied at 2-2.

“Joe struggled mightily for two periods,” San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. “But Joe hung in there and we found a way.”

“We definitely didn’t want to go down 3-1,” Thornton said. “It was gut check time…”

It was also time for Thornton to dispel the notion that he chokes in the playoffs. A superstar and the Sharks’ irrefutable leader in the regular season, Thornton has made a bad habit of slumping conspicuously in the post-season.

In the regular-season, Thornton has 756 points in 754 games. Heading into the playoffs this year, though, he had only 38 points in 57 post-season games.
Last night, he picked up an assist and the winning goal to give him five points in this series.

“Joe works so hard out there,” said Sharks captain Patrick Marleau, who also turned in a strong game. “He draws double coverage sometimes (but) he handles it.”

And Thornton handled it especially well in the final seconds last night, when he persevered and almost single-handedly prevented the Flames from clearing the puck out of their zone. San Jose defenceman Doug Murray ended up with the puck, courtesy of Thornton’s doggedness, and fired it in front of the Flames’ net. That’s where Thornton had set himself in perfect position to screen Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. Not only did he screen Kiprusoff, though, he also deflected the puck home.

The Flames could only get 10 shots on net, but led 2-1 until Jonathan Cheechoo’s goal at 15:05 of the third.

“We knew if we stuck with it, eventually the puck would go in the net for us,” Thornton said.

Wilson made a sharp decision, putting Marleau on a line with Thornton.

Calgary coach Mike Keenan, meanwhile, was upset with his team’s lack of offence.

“We carried the play early,” he said, “but it was all San Jose after that. They completely outplayed us.”

In three-plus decades as a columnist and broadcaster, Marty York has built a network of solid contacts and a renowned reputation for his hard-hitting, groundbreaking style. The tradition continues in Metro Sports.

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