VANCOUVER, B.C. — One of the most challenging three-week stretches in recent Sharks history took another unfortunate turn as Joe Thornton suffered what looked like a left leg injury during Sunday’s game with the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.
With roughly three minutes left in the first period of what became a 3-1 Sharks win over the Canucks, Thornton collided awkwardly with Michael Chaput along the boards inside the Canucks’ zone and immediately fell to the ice.
It appeared Thornton’s left leg buckled on the collision, and he wasn’t able to put much or any weight on his left leg as he made his way to the Sharks’ bench. He did not return and left the arena after the game under his own power and without crutches but with a clear limp.
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer didn’t have an update on Thornton’s injury and general manager Doug Wilson said the team would know more after he is reexamined Monday.
With Logan Couture already injured, the Sharks could be forced to play the remainder of the regular season and possibly the start of the playoffs without their top two centers.
DeBoer, before the game, did not have an update on Couture, who suffered a facial injury March 25 against Nashville and has been out for four straight games.
The Sharks end the regular season with three home games this week, starting with Tuesday’s game against the Canucks. The first day of the NHL playoffs is April 12.
“You can’t roll over and just quit,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got guys, it’s a great challenge for us and hopefully he’s only out short-term here. But I think we’re confident as a group that we’re a team that’s a sum of our parts and not about one or two guys, anyway. So I think if anyone can handle it, we can.”
Tomas Hertl’s two first-period goals and Martin Jones’ 29 saves led the Sharks to just their second win in their last 10 games. Patrick Marleau, who filled in on the top line after Thornton left the game, scored with 2.6 seconds left on an empty net to seal the win after a handful of dicey moments inside the Sharks’ zone.
“You can’t replace him, but obviously it’s going to give other guys opportunities to step and step up and try and make a difference,” Marleau said.
Jones allowed a Sven Baertschi goal with 3:53 left in the third period, but had 14 saves in the final 20 minutes to help earn just his second win in his last seven starts.
By winning their last road game of the season, the Sharks improved to 95 points to keep alive their chances of grabbing one of the top two spots in the Pacific Division. The Sharks are two points back of Edmonton for second place in the Pacific and four back of first place Anaheim, which was a 4-3 winner over Calgary.
“I thought it was a gutsy effort by us,” DeBoer said. “Couture’s out and Jumbo only played five minutes, so you take two guys like that out of your lineup, I thought the rest of the guys responded and got a much needed two points for us.”
After his injury, Thornton dropped his stick as he got to the Sharks bench, fell for a second when he was on the bench before he went to the dressing room.
Thornton, 37, was playing in his 201st straight game and the 1,446th game of his NHL career. He entered Sunday with 1,391 career points, tied for 22nd all-time with Brett Hull.
“He plays through so much and plays so hard,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “He’s been pretty healthy throughout his career. It’s definitely a little different scene, but we’ll figure it out tomorrow and go from there. Guys played a good game once he left and just really kind of locked it down.”
At the time of Thornton’s injury, the Sharks were leading 2-0 on two goals by Hertl at the 11:00 and 12:51 marks, with his first goal snapping a 16-game goal drought.
Hertl added another goal at the 12:51 mark, as he collected a loose puck after a shot on goal by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and scored his 10th of the season from a sharp angle with Canucks goalie Ryan Miller unable to get over in time.
“It’s for sure tough losing your top center, but we need to stay with it,” Hertl said. “Don’t think about it. Me and other guys, we need to just step forward and be ready for games. Whatever’s happened we need to be ready.”
Joonas Donskoi and Joel Ward returned to the Sharks lineup after they were scratched from Friday’s game against Calgary, a 5-2 loss to the Flames.
Jannik Hansen, in his first game against the Canucks since he was acquired by the Sharks on Feb. 28, was given a video tribute at Rogers Arena. Hansen played 565 regular season games for the Canucks over nine-plus seasons.