SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – When the San Jose Sharks started the playoffs, questions about the health of top two centers Joe Thornton and Logan Couture raised serious questions about whether another Stanley Cup run was possible.
With Thornton missing two of the first three games with a knee injury and Couture looking nothing like the player who led the playoffs in scoring last spring in his return from a serious mouth injury, the Sharks stumbled at the start against Edmonton with shutout losses in Games 2 and 3.
That all changed Tuesday night when Couture scored two goals and Thornton assisted on another in San Jose’s 7-0 win over the Oilers on Tuesday night that tied their series at two games apiece headed into Game 5 in Edmonton on Thursday.
“They drive the bus, no question about that,” forward Jannik Hansen said Wednesday. “When you’re missing your No. 1 and No. 2 center you have some very big holes in your lineup.”
Couture got hurt March 25 in Nashville when a slap shot by Brent Burns deflected and hit him square in the face. He was immediately rushed to the hospital and later underwent complex dental work that put a plastic bond on his upper teeth and an arch bar to hold his lower teeth in place. He will likely need several teeth pulled in the offseason when he will have the time for more work.
Couture had trouble doing the simplest tasks like eating and breathing at first and wasn’t able to get back on the ice at all for almost two weeks. He returned for the start of the playoffs with a full cage protecting his mouth but struggled at the start of the series.
He took several hard hits in Game 2 but still decided to ditch the cage for a half-visor to give him better vision. By Game 4, he started looking like himself again.
“He’s just getting healthy,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “It’s as simple as that. He’s an elite player and he has been for a long time. He had a serious injury and he’s just starting to feel like himself again.”
Couture needed extra medical attention in Game 4 after taking a stick to the face from Drake Caggiula in the first period. Couture toughed it out with the Sharks headed to the power play and responded with the goal that made it 2-0.
He then went back to the dressing room to see the dentist.
“They just had to put some numbing into my face,” he said. “Got hit in teeth again. The dentist put some numbing in, and felt good the rest of the game.”
He then added a second goal in the second period for his fourth career multi-goal game in the playoffs.
“I felt better tonight,” he said. “I felt this was my best game of the series.”
Thornton’s injury was less gruesome. He hurt his left knee in Vancouver on April 2 and missed the final three games of the regular season. He also sat the first two games of the playoffs before returning in Game 3 on a line with Couture and Joe Pavelski.
After a fast start, Thornton struggled in that game and didn’t even get on the ice in the closing minutes when the Sharks pulled the goalie looking for game-tying goal in a 1-0 loss.
But by Game 4, the Sharks went back to a more familiar lineup with Thornton and Couture as the top two centers and had their most complete game of the series.
“It was huge for us,” forward Joel Ward said. “It was a huge confidence booster for us. They’ve been doing it since day one that I’ve been here. It was cool for them to do it again. They just really seem to lead the way.”
More AP NHL: apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)