Jumbo is finally getting an opportunity to play in a Stanley Cup Final. Joe Thornton, 36 has been a mainstay in the NHL since being drafted first overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. The headline at www.mercurynews.com says its best: “Joe Thornton’s 1,356 Stanley Cup Wait Ends…” It’s been a long time coming, but finally we have a jumbo Stanley Cup Final.
The San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins will face off in the Stanley Cup Final, with Game One starting on Monday May 30 in Pittsburgh. The cast of characters is huge and stellar. Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and a roster full of elite players on both sides will join Jumbo in what will prove to be a Cup Final filled with speed, grit and explosive play befitting of the two teams left standing.
The road to the Final for Jumbo has not been easy. In five playoff appearances with the Boston Bruins and in this his tenth with the Sharks, Thornton has never made it this far. He has played in 150 playoff games, scoring 27 goals and registering 91 assists. Thornton has played hard but his teams have always managed to come up short of the chance to play for hockey’s ultimate prize. Until this season, that is.
Jumbo has a chance – a legitimate chance – to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup with his fellow Sharks. They are four wins away, but then again, four wins at this point may seem like an eternity. The Kid and crew are not feeling one bit of nostalgia for Thornton or Marleau or any of their fans who have waited for this very moment. The Penguins are equally as close and equally as determined to win those four games. It is the stuff of legend in the NHL, and has the makings of a Final for the ages. We will see.
It’s All About the Pipes
For what it is worth, I believe that this year’s Final will come down to the play of the first-year goalies – Martin Jones for the Sharks and Matt Murray for the Pens. On May 28th, Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that Murray is ready to start in goal. Menendez wrote that there is no need to question Mike Sullivan about whom his goalie will be:
“It’s just obviously Matt Murray — the same guy who came to the podium at Madison Square Garden in his socks five weeks ago after his first NHL postseason shutout, then closed out the Eastern Conference final with 16 saves in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.”
Of course the Penguins do have the luxury of having a playoff veteran goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury as a
backup. But for now all eyes will be on Murray, and Jumbo and the Sharks will bring him a fast-paced Western Conference style of play that will likely push him to the limits of his ability.
At the other end of the ice, Jones will have to contend with Crosby, Malkin (who has yet to pull his game together in these playoffs) and Phil Kessel. It’s the NHL’s best in the spotlight, and like Murray, Jones will be put to a brutal test of skills and will. Brian Metzer of The Times wrote yesterday the best summation of what I believe to be the crucial factor in the Sharks versus Penguins matchup:
“The Sharks lead the playoffs in scoring, while the Penguins rank second. The goalies can make or break everything for one of these teams. Both have been great, but both have allowed suspect goals along the way. Will a bad goal undo one or the other? We’ll know soon enough.”
The two most potent offenses firing away at two young goalies will make for a fabulous series to watch.
A Jumbo Beard
An article about Thornton would not be complete without mention of the playoff beard. We all know of players sporting the whiskers throughout the playoffs, and Thornton has done himself proud.
Jumbo and teammate Brett Burns are arguably without peer in the playoff beard department. Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports wrote an excellent piece yesterday on the Thornton/Burns beard connection. Wyshynski quoted Thornton on Burns’ expertise in all things beard-related:
“Burnsie helps me. He gets me all the oils, the combs. In the morning you get up and oil it and comb it. And then at night, you have to oil it a little bit and comb it. It looks pretty. But it’s hard work.”
I’m not sure “pretty” is the word I’d personally use to describe Jumbo’s beard, and his wife is not all-too enamored with it either:
Thornton's wife's thoughts on the beard: "Oh, she hates it."
— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) May 29, 2016
Win or lose the beards will remain until the end of this season’s Stanley Cup Final. When the puck drops Monday night, it will be about the puck and the net, the beards will be an afterthought. Sharks fans will be behind their beloved team and hoping that this will finally be a Jumbo Stanley Cup Final win.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.