If you’re Joe Thornton, life probably doesn’t seem that fair. Since coming into the league in 1997, he been one of the league’s best players and top point producers. He’s scored more than 300 goals and recorded 1001 regular season points. But if you ask most hockey fans their opinion of Jumbo Joe, they’ll probably throw the word ‘choker’ out at some point because of his reputation for not producing when the calender turns to April.
That’s how it works in the NHL, Joe.
It’s a label that he earned from his days as a Boston Bruin, where he managed a meager 18 points in 35 playoff games. Early in the 2005-2006 season, Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks, where he captured the Hart Trophy with the best statistical season of his career with 125 points. Despite the success in the regular season, playoff success eluded both Thornton and the Sharks as it did in Boston. The team didn’t make it past the second round, despite finishing near the top of the conference in those seasons.
Last season, the Sharks began to shake the choker label, reaching the Western Conference Finals. They were swept in that series by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, but played two impressive series against the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings to get there. But instead of Thornton, it was players like Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle and Devin Setoguchi who were pacing the team, scoring the key goals, and playing big when it was most needed.
Fast Forward to this season. Jumbo Joe had a solid season while the Sharks turned it on late to finish second in the West as the attention was focused more on the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks and the Red Wings. One series into the 2011 playoffs and it’s the Sharks and Thornton who have been clutch. Joe’s OT goal Monday was the game and series clincher against the Los Angeles Kings. It was a series, that saw the Sharks overcome a a 4-0 deficit in game three to win 6-5 in overtime.
Joe might have a little more work to do before he buries his playoff demons, but in my opinion, his team has shaken the label of ‘chokers’.
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