Thornton scored with just 9.4 seconds left in regulation to give the San Jose Sharks a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames in Game 4 on Tuesday night, evening their first-round series.
The Sharks' assistant captain, his team's leading goal-scorer during the regular season, had been under some scrutiny after failing to score in the first three games of the series.
"I was just waiting until there was under 10 seconds left in the game," Thornton said, joking. "Perfect time."
He tipped Douglas Murray's shot from the point past Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to win a game the Sharks trailed twice.
"Dougie made a great shot and I just happened to throw my stick on it," Thornton said.
The Flames set a franchise low for shots on goal in a playoff game, mustering just 10 against the Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov. The previous low was 15.
"Any time you get outshot 32-10 at home, that means you didn't come to work and you didn't put in the effort," Flames head coach Mike Keenan said. "We carried some play early, but it was all San Jose after that. The completely outplayed us."
Ryane Clowe scored his fourth of the series and Jonathan Cheechoo had his first for the Sharks.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla had a goal and an assist and Dion Phaneuf also scored. Kiprusoff, who was pulled just 3 1/2 minutes into Sunday's Game 3 after giving up three goals, stopped 29 shots.
Game 5 is Thursday night at San Jose.
The game was almost the reverse of Game 3 in which the Flames started slowly and gained momentum to pull off a 4-3 win. The Sharks were slow out of the gates this time, but had a strong finishing kick.
The Flames controlled the play in the opening period by scoring first, pressuring the Sharks in their own zone and taking time and space away from San Jose when they had the puck. The Sharks began wresting some momentum back in the second with Clowe's power-play goal at 10:54.
Iginla won a faceoff and sent the puck back to Phaneuf, who beat Nabokov on a shot from the point through traffic to give Calgary a 2-1 lead with 1:31 left in the period.
Cheechoo deadlocked the game 2-2 at 15:06 of the third period with his first of the series. His sharp-angled shot found a hole between Kiprusoff's shoulder and the crossbar.
"After the first period, we settled down and had a great second period and said to ourselves 'If we come out and have a great third period, we can really get back in this game,"' Thornton said. "We just kept pounding shots at Kipper, and Cheech, what a shot that was.
"The game's not over until that buzzer rings and we played right to the end tonight."
Iginla opened the scoring 3:19 into the game, whipping the puck across the front of Nabokov and over his stick on Calgary's second shot of the game. The Flames didn't have another shot on goal the rest of the period and it would be almost 24 minutes before they got the next one.
Craig Conroy missed the net on a 2-on-1 with Alex Tanguay in the first 2 minutes of the game, but the Flames retained control of the puck off that play.
Sharks winger Jody Shelley dug his stick into the back of Kiprusoff's right leg while the Flames' goalie was heading to the bench after a whistle late in the first. Kiprusoff dropped to his knees, but was unhurt. Shelley was penalized for roughing.
Notes: Sharks D Christian Ehrhoff played his first game of the playoffs after missing the previous three with a lower-body injury. The Sharks played seven defensemen. ... Sharks rookie forward Devin Setoguchi appeared in his first career NHL playoff game. ... The Flames recalled G Curtis McElhinney and forwards Brandon Prust, Grant Stevenson and David Van der Gulik, from the AHL's Quad City.