SAN JOSE – First things first. Joe Thornton is good to go for Thursday night's Game 3, when the Sharks host the Blues at SAP Center (6 p.m., NBCSN). There was some uncertainty about his status after he got slashed in the left hand in the third period of Game 2, left the ice for a brief stretch, and was later hiding it from cameras during a postgame interview.
Thornton took part in the Sharks’ optional morning skate on Thursday with a bandaged up left thumb, but didn’t seem to have any problems handling the puck.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Thornton said.
Coach Pete DeBoer also confirmed that the 36-year-old would play.
Forward Matt Nieto, though, is not yet an option, although even if he was, it’s doubtful that DeBoer would want to make any changes to his lineup after he was pleased with how the team performed in splitting the first two games.
“I think we're starting to find our rhythm,” he said. “I think our game has been consistently good.
“But I think we have another level, too, we can get to. I think that's a job coaches are looking for every morning, is you're never totally satisfied with how things went. You're always looking to find another gear.”
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Among the changes expected for the Blues – although not confirmed by coach Ken Hitchcock – are Magnus Paajarvi making his playoff debut, likely in place of Steve Ott, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo drawing into the lineup for Joel Edmundson.
“We're making changes,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We've always done it when we don't feel our group is performing the way we want them to. We've been fortunate that every time we've made the changes, we've played better.”
Paajarvi, a former first round pick, had nine points (3g, 6a) in 48 regular season games.
"I've never played playoffs, so that would be cool if that would happen,” he said. “I would not think too much. I would try to keep it as simple as I can, [and] if I get in, give them hell. You go all in."
That the Blues are making changes comes as no surprise to DeBoer.
“I think they're going to throw some different things at us,” he said. “We have to be ready for that, [and] prepared for that.”
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The Blues are in a familiar position, as they have been tied 1-1 in each of their first two rounds.
Against Chicago in the first round, they split two games at home before winning games three and four at United Center to take a 3-1 series lead. They eventually finished off the Blackhawks in seven games.
St. Louis is 5-2 on the road in the playoffs.
“When we're in an uncomfortable situation, whether it's the building, travel, injuries – we have really played alert,” Hitchcock said. “I think that's what's given us the confidence that we can win anywhere, anytime, anyplace. It's our road play that has led to our good home play. Whenever we've played well on the road, when we go home, we play even better.”
The Sharks are aware of the Blues’ road success, which includes three straight wins in Dallas in the second round.
“They’re going to come hard. They’re a better team on the road,” Thornton said. “That’s been documented in the postseason here. So they’re going to come with their best game. I expect us to do the same."
Joe Pavelski said: “They’re a team that plays well on the road so far this playoffs. They’ve been strong there. And, they’re looking to be a little bit better. We’ve got to be ready to bring our game, and everyone has got to contribute."
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A quick check on Thursday morning showed there were a number of tickets left for the game, as the Sharks have struggled to fill their building even for some playoff games.
Still, the fans that have shown up have been loud.
“There’s only one Shark Tank, and I think in the playoffs they’ve brought it every night and I think that’s helped us bring it here at home,” Brenden Dillon said. “So far so good, but not having the goal accomplished yet, I think we need to keep feeding off the crowd and helping us out.”
The Sharks are going for their sixth straight win at SAP Center, winning the final two against Los Angeles and all three versus Nashville.
Hitchcock considers the SAP Center and Scottrade Center to be the two loudest buildings in the NHL.
“This and St. Louis are the most naturally loud buildings in the league,” said the coach. “Nothing's canned here, nothing's canned in St. Louis. The building noise comes directly from the patrons. … When you played here, you had to find a way to negate the surge coming from those people because the surge that came from the fans seemed to really impact the game and the players, and especially the Sharks.”
(Sharks insider Kevin Kurz will be on CSN's SportsTalk Live at 5 p.m.)