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Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Sharks-Canucks: LeBrun's Game 5 preview

By Pierre LeBrun


VANCOUVER -- Sharks captain Joe Thornton skated Tuesday morning and pronounced himself ready to play for Game 5 of the West finals with his team's season on the line.

He did not confirm speculation that he is playing with some form of shoulder injury.

"I felt fine out there and I'm ready. I'm 100 percent," Thornton said.

Thornton said he never doubted for a second he'd be playing tonight. "None," he said.

His answers were short and he wasn't interested in expanding on the subject. His focus was on helping his team extend its season. Thornton also said he may have a few words for his teammates before the game.

"Maybe a little bit, but all the guys realize that if you don't win tonight, you go home," said Thornton. "That's the reality of it. So I think everybody realizes this is a must-win game and that's how we're going to take it."

In fact, Thornton said his team needs to enjoy the moment.

"You have to," he said. "There are 26 teams who would love to play tonight. Embrace it. Enjoy it and play hard. That's all we ask of each other."

"It's not a big surprise for us that Joe is playing tonight," said teammate Ryane Clowe, who himself has played at less than 100 percent in this series. "I think he has the ability to play well even if he is nicked up a little bit. Don't expect much different from Joe. The guys expect him to be in there every night. He has been since I've been here. I think the only games he's missed is when he's been suspended. He's a horse."

Thornton's decision to play was used as inspiration by some teammates.

"When it comes to him, I'm not surprised at all," said Sharks blueliner Douglas Murray. "No one has ever talked about him playing through different things because people don't know what's going on behind closed doors. I can't ever remember him missing a game because of injury, and he's had his fair share of injuries. He's been as effective playing with them. He'll be fine, and it's a huge boost for the team. We have to feed off that."

The Canucks, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-1, know what's going on with Thornton, but don't think it's that big a deal.

"I don't think we'll really focus on his shoulder too much," said Canucks blueliner Kevin Bieksa. "He's a pretty hard guy to hit as it is. He's pretty slippery. For me, if I get a chance to put him through the boards, I do that regardless of if he's got a sore shoulder or not. If I don't [get that chance], I don't chase it."

Clowe said both teams are banged up, so the Sharks don't have any excuses.

"At this time of year, we're all a little nicked up," said Clowe. "Look at Vancouver, they've got a few guys banged up over there, too. We all play the same amount of games, we're all in the same position. I think what it comes down to is between the ears."

In other injury updates, Canucks blueliner Christian Ehrhoff didn't skate this morning, suggesting he might miss another game. Meanwhile, Keith Ballard confirmed he's back in for a second straight game.

Also, Sharks blueliner Jason Demers, who hasn't played in the series because of an undisclosed injury, skated again this morning. He had an outside shot to play in Game 5.

"We're still contemplating that," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after the morning skate. "There is a chance."

Canucks omen?

If you believe in omens, it was 17 years ago to the day Tuesday that the Vancouver Canucks last clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup finals. Greg Adams scored in overtime as the Canucks knocked out the Toronto Maple Leafs to reach the 1994 final. But that wasn't generating much bite in the Canucks' room this morning.

"I don't even think we're thinking about 17 years or the day or anything like that," said Vancouver star center Ryan Kesler. "We're just trying to win a game. We know the fourth one is the hardest one to win and we're treating this like a Game 7. We have to play our best game of the playoffs tonight. We know they're going to be ready for us and we have to make the push here."

For the majority of players on this Canucks team, the Cup finals would be new territory. That's hard to ignore when you're one win away.

"I've waited six years to even make it to the playoffs," said defenseman Keith Ballard. "You hear guys talk about all the time. You never know when you're going to get back, when you'll get another shot or how long it's going to take, or if you're ever going to get a shot. For most guys in this room, this is the furthest they've ever made it. In saying that, we understand we're only part of the way there. Our biggest test is going to be tonight."

The Canucks failed to close it out in Game 5 when they were up 3-1 on both Chicago and Nashville. They insist they realize just how much better they need to play.

"You can't look past it. As soon as we do that, all of a sudden it's Game 7," said Ballard. "This is such a huge game for us. We have to play our absolute best tonight."

Supporting Luongo

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault started it over the past few days, but there was more talk this morning from the players showing their support of goalie Roberto Luongo, who was much maligned in these parts this spring.

"He's been great all year," said Ballard. "When we win, it's not because of him, and when we lose, people say it's his fault. I think he's been great all year. He's made so many big saves in the playoffs. Look at the Chicago series; if he doesn't make that save on [Patrick] Sharp, it's not good for us, we're done. He's been so solid for us all year."

Getting more from top players

Some of the Sharks' top players have struggled in this series, like Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. We asked McLellan on Tuesday morning whether he's at the point where he has to start going with the guys he trusts more to deliver with the season on the line.

"You know what, I'm at that point already," said McLellan. "You can see how we play certain individuals down the stretch in games in different scenarios. We're at that point. We're in the playoffs. We're in the final four. We talk about Jumbo, how much we're making a big story out of him playing, how much we trust him and others, but you can't just win with a handful of players.

"I do trust all of our guys in certain situations. That's very important that the players know that. Given an exorbitant amount of minutes, you have to find a way to produce. Given a minute amount of minutes, you have to find a way to produce.

"You look at our fourth line -- they've done a really good job, in my opinion, over the last couple games," the coach added. "They've been big factors, provided us some energy. We've got that. We've got some of our top-end guys. It's that middle tier that needs to show up and get it done for us."