Joe Thornton, the gentle giant, was standing at his locker stall, after the San Jose Sharks’ morning skate, the scrum gathering around him – and you wondered, what mood he might be in.
Thornton doesn’t generally engage in the sort of by-play between teams that was initiated a day earlier when the Vancouver Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa suggested the Sharks were being rewarded in this playoff series with a few undeserved power-play opportunities because of diving and embellishment.
Bieksa isolated two primary culprits, Thornton and Logan Couture, and suggested these “so-called” Canadians weren’t playing the game with the proper amount of integrity.
How did Thornton, from St. Thomas, Ont., respond to that description - a so-called Canadian?
“Well,” answered Thornton, “I do have dual citizenship. I consider myself more a citizen of North America.”
And that was about as far as Thornton would play along with the gag. He wouldn’t otherwise be drawn into a back-and-forth and mostly talked about the Sharks need to stay focused on the fourth and potentially deciding game of their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final with the Canucks. San Jose has a 3-0 series lead and can be the first team to advance to the second round, with a win tonight.
The Canucks will try to stave off elimination by returning to Cory Schneider in goal. Schneider made his series debut in a Game 3 loss, after missing four games because of an undisclosed injury, but was eventually pulled in favour of Roberto Luongo after he gave up three quick third-period goals.
Whatever decision coach Alain Vigneault made in goal would have been interesting because the goal, he insisted, was to win just one game. Even with those inflated numbers – a 6.80 GAA, a .821 save percentage – Vigneault presumably felt that Schneider gave the Canucks the best chance of winning that one game – and sending the series back to Vancouver for a fifth game Thursday night.
The Sharks have 10 goals in the series, four on the power play, three in the third game.
“If you look at last game, we’re taking way too many penalties,” said team captain Henrik Sedin. “It’s not only about giving them power plays. It’s about giving them confidence to make plays, giving them time and space. You’ve got to feel good about the game and it makes it tougher to play five-on-five. There’s a lot of things that come from taking too many penalties.
“That’s what we talked about - getting out of scrums and not being involved in that stuff after the whistle – take a punch and get out of there. We should have done going into the series, but again, it’s too late now to think back. We’ve got to start tonight and get a win and go from there.”
Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan was a little more engaging than Thornton, in terms of who is actually doing the embellishing and how much of an impact it’s having on the series.
“They use that word ‘embellish’ and I haven’t heard it for a while,” began McLellan. “When you go back and look at the series, we’ve been called cheaters after Game 1; we’ve been called embellishing Canadians after Game 3.’ If the series goes any deeper, we may even be accused of biting.
“In all seriousness, I don’t take any offence – but if I was an official, I probably would. They’ve questioned their integrity, the linesmen after Game 1 and now the referees after Game 3 - but no offence taken by us.”
A well-played salvo by McLellan, who went on to say he wasn’t thinking at all about the possibility of wrapping up the series early and thus getting additional rest for the next round.
“We want to be able to come out and play hard and compete for every inch of ice,” said McLellan. “I’ve said this many times, ‘let’s play and then at the end of the night, look up at the clock and we’ll take the results that are there.’ Usually, they’re deserved or earned. That’s the way we’ll look at it.
“When you talk about saving energy and not having to travel, I don’t think you’re in the right frame of mind to compete.”
Until the Sharks broke it open in the third period of the third game, the series had been a tightly played, close-checking encounter, and Thornton said he expected to see more of the same tonight.
“We’ve been in a lot of series where other teams had us 3-0 and we felt like we were in the series as well,” said Thornton. “It’s been a tight series the whole way through – as you’ve watched throughout the playoffs. Most series have been close.
“It’s one game at a time. We’ll see what happens tonight.”