The San Jose Sharks want to use their last three regular-season games to gather momentum heading into the playoffs as they aim for a second straight Stanley Cup final appearance.
The yet-to-be determined status of Joe Thornton and the continued absence of Logan Couture makes it hard to remain positive.
The Sharks begin their final homestand Tuesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, who will try to avoid being swept in the season series.
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Thornton sustained an apparent left knee injury when he collided with the Canucks’ Michael Chaput late in the first period of the Sharks’ 3-1 victory on Sunday in Vancouver. Thornton had his knee buckle, and he was unable to put any weight on his leg while being helped into the locker room.
As of late Monday night, the Sharks had not released any information about Thornton’s availability.
Selected first overall by the Boston Bruins in the 1997 draft, Thornton has proved to be remarkably durable since the Sharks acquired him in a trade in 2005. He missed three games in 2010 with a lower-body injury and four games in 2015 with an upper-body injury.
Now 37 and in his 19th season, Thornton is still productive. He is fourth on the team in scoring with 50 points (seven goals, 43 assists) and tied with Hall of Famer Brett Hull for 22nd all time with 1,391 points. Thornton is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Jannik Hansen, acquired by San Jose on Feb. 28 after 10 seasons with the Canucks, knows what Thornton means to the team.
“He’s a leader, emotionally and on the ice,” Hansen told the San Jose Mercury News. “He’s a guy that kind of gets everything in line and you follow around and follow after. It’s impossible to fill those shoes.”
Besides Thornton, San Jose is still dealing with the absence of Couture, who has missed the last four games after taking a deflected puck to the mouth. Couture is third on the club with 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists).
Thornton’s apparent injury combined with Couture’s extended absence comes at perhaps the worst possible time for the defending Western Conference champions.
San Jose (44-28-7) spent most of the season atop the Pacific Division before dropping a season-high six in a row from March 16 through March 25. The Sharks are now third in the Pacific, two points behind the second-place Edmonton Oilers, who have a game in hand, and two points in front of the fourth-place Calgary Flames.
The Sharks will face the Oilers on Thursday and the Flames on Saturday to wrap up the regular season. All three teams are chasing the Anaheim Ducks, who have 99 points with three games to play.
“We have to win all three and hope for a little bit of help,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told the league’s official website.
The Canucks could offer the kind of assistance DeBoer mentioned. Vancouver (30-39-9) has lost all four games against San Jose this season, scoring one goal in each loss.
A win would give the Sharks their fourth season series sweep of the Canucks and the first since 2012-13.
Besides trying to gain a split of the home-and-home series, Vancouver will try to snap a four-game skid in which it has scored just three goals. Sven Baertschi’s goal with less than four minutes to play Sunday helped the Canucks avoid being blanked for the second time in three games.
“I think it shows up on the ice in frustration,” Vancouver goaltender Ryan Miller told the league’s official website. It takes something positive to get out energy up. That’s tough.”
One player who has given the Canucks a boost all season is Bo Horvat, who leads the team with 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists). The ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft is trying to become the first player other than Daniel Sedin or Henrik Sedin to lead Vancouver in scoring since Markus Naslund in 2005-06.
Though Horvat has failed to score a goal in his last 13 games overall, he has five goals with eight assists in his last 11 road games. His next goal will be the 50th of his NHL career.
Horvat has four goals and two assists in a five-game points streak at SAP Center.
San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic needs one assist for 200 in his 11-season NHL career. Vlasic has a goal and three assists in his past four games.