Brodie & Kevin: Welcome to Vancouver
VANCOUVER – It was midway through the third period, and the Vancouver Canucks were ahead 4-1 over the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference finals.
Sharks captain Joe Thornton was playing the puck in the offensive zone along the wall, and was caught looking the wrong direction when the Canucks’ Raffi Torres flattened him. The clean hit separated Thornton’s shoulder, rendering him ineffective in Game 5, as the Canucks’ ended the Sharks’ season.
Thornton remembered the hit from his now teammate on Wednesday morning.
“I was just kind of coming up the half wall, and it wasn’t a crazy hard hit or anything, he just got me when I was down a little bit,” Thornton said. “It just kind of separated my shoulder. It wasn’t a vicious hit or anything, it just got me in the right spot.”
Torres, who said he’s never talked to Thornton about the hit, said: “A lot of people say hits are momentum changers, but for me it’s just part of the game.”
Although the Canucks had pretty good control of the series at the time of the hit, the series ended at that point, as the Sharks weren't going to win without Thornton at his best. And, it’s still a good example of how opponents have to be aware of when Torres is on the ice. That’s probably why the Canucks reportedly had interest in re-acquiring him at the trade deadline before Doug Wilson sent a high third round pick to Phoenix in exchange for the 31-year-old sparkplug on April 3.
In 11 games with the Sharks, Torres had two goals and four assists for six points and just four penalty minutes. He’s proven to be more effective than the departed Ryane Clowe, whom he was essentially brought in to replace.
Part of the reason he’s fit in so well is thanks to the man he incapacitated two seasons ago. When asked who has helped him feel welcome on the Sharks, Torres said: “[Thornton], obviously. He’s a great leader. Pavelski has been great. It’s a really light room, and guys all step on each other’s toes in a fun way. It’s a loose room and a good room, so it’s a good vibe.”
Todd McLellan senses Torres is at ease, too.
“Based on my dealings with him and meeting with him on different occasions, he seems to be comfortable. He hasn’t shown any effects on the ice of being tentative or anything, so I would say he’s fitting in well.”
Torres will be playing in his first playoff game since Game 3 of first round last season while still with Phoenix, when he was suspended for the remainder of the postseason and into the 2013 regular season for his devastating dirty hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa.
Upon his return in early February, there were questions as to whether or not Torres could still be an effective NHL player, as he would undoubtedly be under the microscope on a nightly basis. He’s answered them positively in the last three months.
“I haven’t seen any pull back in his game, not only in his time here, but even in Phoenix,” McLellan said. “I think the staff did a lot of good things there to help him get through that and allow him to play his game. He’s just carried that on here. I haven’t seen him pull up, or be tentative. He has to play aggressive and hard."
Torres said: “The history I have, it’s not on my side, but at the end of the day I’ll just keep going the way I’m going. I’m not trying to lose myself at certain times on the ice.”
Thornton is glad to have Torres on his side this time around in what should be a nasty and chippy first round clash.
“He’s a wild card. He’s a great skater and punishing hitter, and you’ve definitely got to be aware of where he is on the ice. Hopefully this time around it works out well for us,” he said.