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Stanley Cup Final will give Sharks, Penguins chance to achieve greatness

By Los Angeles Times (TNS) - May 30,2016 - Last updated at May 30,2016

The San Jose Sharks practice during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Centre on Sunday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (AFP photo by Justin K. Aller)

PITTSBURGH — San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton doesn’t hesitate to call himself a great player, which he is.

“I’m real good. I’ll tell you that all day,” said Thornton, whose humour and 1,341 regular-season points negate any perception of arrogance.

It’s difficult to imagine Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby describing himself that way, though he has ample justification with 938 points in 707 regular-season games. He’s not prone to grand statements, though, so Thornton said it for him.

“He’s one of the best to ever play, as far as I’m concerned,” Thornton said. “His speed, the way he sees the game, he’s very elite.”

Both have withstood the ravages of a punishing sport and sharp-tongued critics. On Monday their paths will converge at Consol Energy Centre, with the Stanley Cup and a chance to enhance their reputations at stake.

Crosby, 28, will play in his third Cup Final but first since he led the Penguins to victory in 2009, before their budding dynasty fizzled and his career was jeopardised by multiple concussions.

“It does feel like it’s been a while, but the one thing that doesn’t change is the excitement,” he said Sunday. “I think there’s appreciation after being away. It’s a great opportunity and you just want to make the most of it.”

Thornton, 36, will play in his first Cup Final after 19 NHL seasons and many spectacular playoff disappointments. “I always believed that next year was going to be the year. I really did,” he said. “Even last year, not making the play-offs, I honestly thought, ‘We’re a couple of pieces away,’ and here we are.”

One of those pieces was starting goaltender Martin Jones, who will get his first chance to define himself and his career.

A year ago, Jones, 26, was the backup to durable Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Jones was about to become a restricted free agent and General Manager Dean Lombardi anticipated Jones would sign an offer sheet with another team, which would have brought the Kings compensation of a second-round draft pick. To head that off, Lombardi traded him to Boston for Milan Lucic. The Bruins sent Jones on to San Jose for a first-round pick and a prospect.

“We knew Boston was flipping him where he was going to end up with an offer sheet, anyway, and Boston would not have done it without getting the asset they wanted from flipping him,” Lombardi said. “That’s why it is ridiculous to assume Boston did something underhanded. Caps do not allow you to keep top goalies in a backup role. They’re like trying to keep a solid backup quarterback.”

Jones, who appeared in two games during the Kings’ 2014 Cup run, welcomed the chance to start for the Sharks. “I was confident I was able to do it,” he said. “It’s a matter of opportunity and playing well at the right time and playing behind a good team.”

He had fine preparation, which included watching Quick up close and getting guidance from goaltending coach Bill Ranford and goaltending development coach Kim Dillabaugh.

“You just watch the guy compete and how he battles on every puck,” Jones said of Quick. “That’s something I’ve tried to put in my game. Obviously we’re very different goalies but he’s a guy that you can definitely learn a lot from.

“Bill and Kim were great. Those are important development years early on in your pro career. We had a great relationship and it worked well.”

Jeff Zatkoff, the Penguins’ backup goalie, alternated with Jones for the Kings’ farm team in Manchester, then in the American Hockey League. They still keep in touch, though their friendship is on hold.

“He’s been great all year,” Zatkoff said of Jones, who was 37-23-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 65 regular-season games. “I know he’s won with LA, but to see him get a chance to actually carry a team on his own and get that opportunity, I’m glad to see him make the most of it. I’m happy for him, but I don’t want him to play too well in the final.”

 

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was impressed when he coached Jones with Canada at the 2015 World Championships. “I noticed how calm and composed he was and how fluid he was in the net,” DeBoer said.

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