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Thornton, Marleau one step closer to Stanley Cup goal

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The hugging and backslapping around the basement of SAP Center was audible long after the San Jose Sharks punched their ticket to the first Stanley Cup Final in team history.

The relief in the organization was visible as some crying staff members hugged one another.

As reality set in that the Sharks will have their chance to play for a Stanley Cup it was clear to Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton that while beating the Blues 5-2 meant a lot, there was a more important trophy that’s up for grabs.

“This is not the end goal,” the 36-year-old Thornton said. “I'll tell you that right now.”

Throughout this playoff run there have been questions after almost every game and every round why this Sharks team is different than the two prior groups in the Thornton/Marleau era that made a Western Conference Final.

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The answer is simple. This team will not change and not deviate from its routine or plan until it hits the goal of winning that elusive Stanley Cup. It will not look at the big picture and won’t be distracted until they reach the ultimate. 

“The confidence we've built over the regular season and now in the playoffs, I think winning on the road helped us get close as a group during the regular season,” Marleau said. “It carried over into the playoffs so far. Just having each other's back out there, working for each other.”

The visible reactions of Thornton and Marleau for this series-clinching win was no different than the others this playoffs. They were happy and they celebrated and yelled with their teammates. All the extra emotion is being saved if they can beat the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round. Then the party will be on for the two graybeards.

“It's a pretty cool feeling. Obviously it's our first time. It was pretty neat to get this done at home. The fans here have waited so long, 25 years. We've waited 18 years or so. So it's a great feeling,” Thornton said. “This team, I think we've always said we’ve got a deep team. We truly believe we've got a deep team. You saw tonight all 12 forwards play big parts, six D played big parts, (Martin Jones) played great. This is truly a team effort from top to bottom.”

Thornton and Marleau have played a combined 2,778 NHL regular season games and 315 playoff games between them before making their first Stanley Cup Final.

Marleau has scored 1,036 points in his 1,411 game NHL career. Thornton has picked up 1,341 points in 1.367 games in his career.

After each season since they were paired together in 2005-06 they both faced a barrage of questions on why they couldn’t give themselves in an opportunity to win the big one. 

In the salary cap era of the NHL, it often comes down to a bounce or two in a series that can change its course against two teams that are generally evenly matched. No matter how much they won in the regular season or how many points they piled up, they were seen as guys who couldn’t lift their games in important moments even if this wasn’t 100 percent true.

When the Sharks blew a 3-0 lead to the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, both looked like they were nearing the end of their status as elite NHL players.

They were 34 years old and guys of that age don’t tend to improve.

Especially after last season when San Jose missed the playoffs and the team stripped Thornton of his captain's ‘C’ before the year it appeared the Sharks were done contending with this group.

Even earlier in 2015-16 there were rumblings that Marleau wasn’t happy in San Jose and wanted out. On Jan. 9 the team was 19-18-2 and going nowhere fast. 

But they steadily improved thanks to a stable of depth acquired by general manager Doug Wilson and DeBoer’s steady hand. Players completely bought into the coach and his staff and Thornton notched 55 points in his final 44 games. He finished the year with 82 points.

Marleau had 48 points, but his ability to shift to the third-line at center made the Sharks a deeper group down the middle – where the Western Conference is often won.

They became a consistent force and a team that didn’t pay attention to history. Instead they wanted to write a new chapter.

“We struggled. Winning one, losing one, winning one, losing one,” Thornton said. “With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win. Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team.”

Part of the ability to tune out feelings and emotions surrounding an important game comes from DeBoer. He understands the importance of staying level in the good times and bad. And his experience as the New Jersey Devils’ coach in 2011-12 will prove vital for this team moving forward. That group lost in six games in the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings. It’s a loss DeBoer still feels to this day and a message he’s already relayed to his team. And they're the types of words Thornton and Marleau have waited long enough to hear. No doubt they'll listen. 

“I've been this far once before. As great a night as this is, if you don't win the next round, it's still not a great summer,” DeBoer said. “ I think we'll enjoy this tonight and our focus will turn to the big prize on Friday.” 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

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