On one level, it was a tale of two (unrelated) Thorntons that set the tone for Tuesday night’s NHL playoff action. You had, on the one hand, San Jose’s Joe Thornton playing a monster game – or maybe more accurately a Jumbo game – even if his sole contribution on the score sheet was a single assist on Brent Burns’s goal during the first period of the Sharks’ 2-1 victory over the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Then there was also Boston’s Shawn Thornton, a different sort of player in a different sort of role, who nevertheless made the most of just over six minutes of playing time to contribute two assists and more importantly was one of the catalysts on the Bruins’ fourth line, which ultimately helped them assume a 3-0 stranglehold on their series with the New York Rangers.

But start with the Sharks who, after years of being everybody’s choice for the Stanley Cup, were nobody’s choice this time around. They were a sixth seed, underdogs against the Vancouver Canucks and a team that regularly followed up a credible regular season with a disappointing season. There wasn’t a lot of suggest this year would be any different.

Whenever the Sharks came up just a little short, you usually had your pick of scapegoats – either Patrick Marleau, the former captain, or Thornton, the current captain, both of whom were around for most of the playoff disappointments suffered in the Silicon Valley since the Sharks became legitimate contenders around 2004.

A popular storyline in these playoffs has been how this has become Logan Couture’s team now, with Couture emerging as one of the top young players in the game. Couture’s value to the Sharks is indisputable – he scored the winner, a Dan Boyle shot deflecting in off his leg – but it is hard to argue, unless you’re desperately trying to push a storyline, that Thornton or Marleau are any less important to the Sharks’ success these days.

In the series versus the Kings, Thornton’s line – with Burns and T. J. Galiardi – has given the Kings all kinds of problems with their size and strength. They’ve had most of the offensive zone time in the first three games whenever they were on the ice – and the Kings deserve a lot of credit for keeping them on the outside and off the scoreboard even strength until Tuesday night’s pivotal game when Burns finally broke through.

Burns had been virtually unstoppable in games against the Kings in the regular season, with eight points in four games, but they’d done a good job of minimizing his impact, if not his presence.

Territorially, the Sharks dominated for the first 40 minutes and limited the Kings to nine shots in that span. Then, after L.A. closed to within one with a third-period power-play goal, it was – as coach Todd McLellan said, ’game on.’ The Kings pressed hard – the third-period shots were 14-2 for them – but they couldn’t get another one past goalie Antti Niemi. So the series is tied 2-2 heading back to L.A. and it’s anybody’s guess where it’s going from here. Even after the Sharks lost the first two games of the series, McLellan ventured that the current edition of the Sharks had a bit more resilience than previous incarnations, and he was proven correct when they went home and squared the series.

Both teams have been virtually unbeatable at home, and so San Jose’s challenge is going to be to take one at the Staples Centre, where the Kings have been on a tear of late – and have yet to lose in the postseason.

Things are not nearly as dramatic over in the Boston-Rangers series, thanks to some work from the Bruins’ mostly unheralded fourth line – of Thornton, Greg Campbell and Daniel Paille, who accounted for both goals in the 2-1 victory over New York.