Whether he's in screaming pain for 25 shifts or numbed from head to skate toe, Joe Thornton will be heard from in Game 5 Tuesday, somehow and someway.

He is hurt, but Thornton will play in Vancouver with the Sharks down 3-1 and facing elimination, because he says he'll play.

"When Joe Thornton comes to you and tells you he's playing," coach Todd McLellan said Monday, "he's playing."

And there's more to it than that.

Though Thornton gave added credibility to his tenure as Sharks captain in several recent playoff performances, this new moment is loaded with even greater potential symbolism.

The Sharks' season might be flickering out, but Thornton's reign as the team's unquestioned leader could be taking off from here.

Thornton was handed the "C" by management at the start of this season -- his sixth in San Jose -- with hopes of leadership, but without any guarantee that he would provide it.

And now the 31-year-old Thornton, whose past has not always been filled with stirring tales of toughness, could transform his captaincy into something larger.

"I'm not even sure myself what the situation's going to be, but just the presence of having him around is something that we need," defenseman Dan Boyle said of Thornton.

"We'll see what happens tomorrow. But he's going to be there, I know that."

Suffering from an undisclosed injury suffered after taking a hit from Vancouver's Raffi Torres in Sunday's Game 4 loss, Thornton will give it a go in Game 5.

How much he has to give is not known -- Thornton did not participate in the team's light optional workout at Sharks Ice on Monday and was not available to speak to the media in the locker room or in Vancouver when the team arrived.

But if Thornton provides anything, even if it's only a flicker of brilliance amid three (or more) periods of slow agony, and even if it cannot prevent a Canucks closeout victory, it could be memorable.