SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It is an accepted axiom in hockey that centers have more impact on games than wingers.
They handle the puck more and cover more ice over the full 200 feet.
And so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the utter domination from the top line of the San Jose Sharks in these playoffs when it's a unit made up of three centers.
The St. Louis Blues found out yet again Thursday night in a 3-0 loss to fall behind 2-1 in the Western Conference finals, Hertl scoring twice and that line once again terrorizing the Blues and setting up shop all night long in the St. Louis zone.
Blues forwards Alexander Steen, David Backes and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo were able to work their defensive magic on the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Jamie Benn over the first two rounds, but they've been overmatched in this series by the two Joes and "Hammer" Hertl.
"We put our top-scoring players out there in this series so far and we've not been able to maintain pressure in the offensive zone. We've ended up in our zone quickly sometimes," Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday night, explaining what he's seeing with that dominant Sharks top line.
"That's something that no one's done against us. We've been able to take top players and hem them in, frustrate them. For whatever reason, we cannot control the play, even though we start 200 feet from our net. So that's on me. I'm going to have to change tactics, do something completely different than we've done in the first two series because within 10 seconds, in most occasions, they're in our zone. We're not hemming them in like we did the other two teams."
Talk about the ultimate compliment from an opposing coach.
Just what tactics the Blues' coaching staff comes up with in the next 48 hours that will find a way to slow down this runaway train of a forward line is beyond me.
The chemistry between Pavelski and Thornton is something to behold.
"It's unbelievable," Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "Hertl talks about it all the time. I think he had four goals before he was up with those guys and he gets up to 20. I can't say enough good things about both Joes. Pav brings it every night, he's our captain for a reason; Jumbo just keeps on getting better and better every game. Those guys were huge again for us tonight."
Former Sharks head coach Todd McLellan put Pavelski and Thornton together three years ago, and a chemistry has built over time that makes it impossible to split them up.
"Well, I think just playing a long time with somebody, we just know each other's tendencies in our sleep," Thornton said. "For me, I like to pass. He likes to shoot. Then you throw this big fella in there [Hertl], it's a pretty good line.
"But, yeah, all three of us, we read so well off each other. We just got to keep continuing that."
After second-line center Logan Couture returned from injury after having missed most of December, head coach Peter DeBoer decided to put Hertl on the wing with Thornton and Pavelski to get him going offensively. Hertl had filled in admirably at center while Couture was out but the Sharks coach felt he needed a pick-me-up.
"I thought he was playing very well, but wasn't getting rewarded offensively," DeBoer said. "The initial thought was to try to get his confidence going offensively. It kind of snowballed to what we have today."
Take Hertl's second goal of the game on Thursday night. Thornton somehow makes a ridiculous pass from the corner that zips just behind the net to Hertl, who had just turned around to accept it on the tape of his stick. The thing is, Hertl has learned to have his stick on the ice in those situations because Thornton can make those kinds of plays.
"He amazing passer," the Czech native Hertl said in his broken English.
The smile on his face while saying it said more. He has won the lottery playing with Thornton and Pavelski.
"I played against them in years past," said Sharks center Nick Spaling, a former member of the Nashville Predators. "I knew they were good, but maybe not just how good they were coming here and seeing the chemistry that keeps developing and keeps building. It's fun to watch. They're two great players, they've played together so long, they read off each other well. They've been playing so good for us in these playoffs, it's been huge."
That Thornton is doing all this at 36 years old and looking fresh as a daisy while doing it, well, that's just unreal. Asked after Game 3 if he was surprised he was still playing at this level so late in his career, Thornton gave an answer only Jumbo Joe could.
"No, no. I know I'm a great player," he said, igniting a room full of laughter from the media. "I love to play. I feel good playing with who I'm playing with, our team.
"Yeah, I feel good. Yeah, I just feel really good about my game. I feel good about my linemates' game, our whole team game. I'm just really, really comfortable with it. It's been fun."
Sure looks like it.