Will Joe Thornton finally lead his team to the Cup finals?

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Thornton.jpgSan Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
3:00 p.m. EDT, May 16, 2010
Live on NBC

Join us at 2:45 p.m. for a live
chat during today’s game!

The San Jose Sharks needed a difference maker on their
team. Fresh off the lockout and just a season removed from a painful
exit in the Western Conference finals the Sharks traded for Joe
Thornton, sending Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau to the
Boston Bruins. The talented center was known for his playmaking ability
and Thornton instantly sparked the offense of the Sharks, putting up 92
points in just 58 games after being traded in the fall of 2008 and has
since remained one of the top playmakers in the NHL. Just one problem:

He completely disappeared in the playoffs.

Thornton’s struggles have been directly tied to the
failings of the Sharks in the playoffs and for good reason. This was the
player the Sharks needed to be at his best in the postseason, the one
who worked so hard to get them to that point and the last player they
needed to fade into the background.

The past four seasons he’s averaged less than a point a
game in the playoffs, managing just a goal and four assists in last
year’s first round departure against Anaheim. In the first round this
season, it looked as though his postseason struggles would continue. He
had just three assists in six games against the Avalanche and was
certainly a non-factor in his team’s series victory.

He can thank Joe Pavelski and Dany Heatley for picking
up the slack.

With the pressure taken off of Thornton, he emerged
against the Red Wings and just with the rest the Sharks seemingly
smacked that monkey right off his back. Three goals five assists in just
five games against the Red Wings saw Thornton’s energy and playmaking
vigor renewed. You could see the weight lifted off his shoulders as
Pavelski took over the role of leading scorer for the Sharks, and while
you’d prefer that Thornton would be able to step up perhaps having the
pressure off has freed him up.

Unfortunately, Thornton will always have the stigma of
flailing in the postseason until he leads his team to at least the
Stanley Cup finals. Getting to this point is great, but it’s tough to
say that Thornton actually was “leading” the Sharks. He’s coming on
strong now, and has a chance to prove that everyone claiming he’s a
failure in the playoffs was wrong.

If he continues his strong play against a great team
like the Blackhawks, his critics will be momentarily silenced. That is,
at least, until the Sharks get to the Cup finals and he manages just
three points in a five-game series loss. Then he’ll be a failure all
over again.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Brian Boyle #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final with a score of 5 to 2 during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.

Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

(Watch that goal in the video above.)

It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

Update: Here’s the goal Kessel accidentally “scored” for the Lightning:

Ouch.