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Finally!
Sharks advance to Stanley Cup Finals with 4-2 win
5/25/16 - By Mike Lee -

The San Jose Sharks are going to the Stanley Cup Finals. Let that one soak in for a moment. It took 25 years, but the Sharks improbable playoff run reached new heights on Wednesday night, as San Jose eliminated the St Louis Blues with a dominating 5-2 win at SAP Center. It was a 60 minute affair that showcased four Sharks lines that contained the Blues from the opening whistle. St Louis was forced to play catch up from the opening period, but could never generate the spark necessary to match the Sharks.

It was a surreal position for the Sharks to be in, considering that it was only a year ago that the team imploded in the regular season and failed to even qualify for the playoffs. A season before that, the Sharks infamously coughed up a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings. All of that was a distant memory as the clock ticked off the final seconds of San Jose's Game 6 triumph, fueled by the frenzy that was erupting in the stands.

It was a moment of redemption for players like Patrick Marleau, who have endured years of ridicule for San Jose's past playoff failures.

And this was only the Western Conference Finals. If the Sharks can win four more games this season, it will be bedlam on Santa Clara Street. On this night it was an opportunity for Sharks fans to celebrate as a win. The biggest win in franchise history to be more specific.

San Jose jumped out to a 4-0 lead, then coasted to the finish line. The party started 3:57 into the game when Joe Pavelski scored his league leading 13th goal of the playoffs. The Sharks captain took advantage of a coverage miscue by the Blues after Joe Thornton pushed a breakaway chance wide of the left post. Thornton's shot tucked against the end boards as he went right of the goal while Pavelski went left. Jay Bouwmeester followed Thornton while Alex Pietrangelo followed Pavelski, but stopped expecting Bouwmeester to switch assignments. Pavelski grabbed the puck then pivoted around the right post and tucked it under Blues goaltender Brian Elliott for the 1-0 lead.

With all the focus on the offense, it's easy to overlook a Sharks defensive corps that suppressed the Blues all night long. St Louis was held to 5 shots on goal through the first 20 minutes of play and generated a paltry 2 shots through the first half of the 2n period.

When Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson acquired Joel Ward, a key selling point was Ward's history in the playoffs. The Sharks forward has delivered as advertised through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Ward scored a pair of goals in Game 5, and matched that output with another deuce on Wednesday night.

Ward scored the first of this two goals in Game 6 with another hand-eye masterpiece, deflecting a Brent Burns shot past Elliott at 5:02 of the period. Burns unloaded on a blast from the right point, but when Ward got his stick blade in front of the shot, the puck took a left turn that terminated at the back of the St Louis goal.

The Blues still had a chance to make a game of it, but Martin Jones created a wall in front of the Sharks net, denying a Colton Parayko shot that seemed destined to find twine. Jones would finish the night with 24 big saves to earn his 12th win of the playoffs.

St Louis made a push in the second half of the middle period, stepping up their pressure around the Sharks net, which started by getting the puck into the Sharks zone. That wasn't something they mastered through first 30 minutes of the game, which created their 2-0 hole.

Ward added his 2nd goal of the night 3:01 into the 3rd period after Logan Couture set him up with a seeing eye pass from the left wing boards. Couture caught Ward cutting to the net from the right circle, and only a well placed pass would get past two Blues defenders that lurked between the forward and his linemate. Couture put a 40-foot bullet on Ward's tape just as the 1st year Shark skated up to the crease. All Ward had to do was tap the pass past Elliott for the 3-0 lead.

Rookie forward Joonas Donskoi added his 5th goal of the playoffs 5 minutes later to push the Sharks lead to 4 goals. Couture added his 2nd assist of the night by sliding a pass to his left where Donskoi sent a shot that tucked inside the left post.

The Blues would score a pair of goals late to make things semi-interesting, but the damage the Sharks did was insurmountable.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock pulled Elliott for the extra attacker with 4 minutes to play. Vladimr Tarasenko finally made an appearance in the series, but it was too little, too late.

The Blues 40-goal scorer in the regular season scored both St Louis goals, but his absence from the score sheet in the first 5 games was one of the big reasons the Blues fell short in the series.

Jones lost his shutout bid with 3:35 left in regulation when Tarasenko fired a shot from the high slot after a wild scrum in front of the net.

Tarasenko jammed his second goal of the game home from the left side as he threw a puck at Jones who was tucked up against the left post. Tarasenko's shot found a seem under Jones blocker to cut the Sharks lead to 4-2.

St Louis kept pressing with the empty net, but time ran out on their season.

San Jose's story is much different. The Sharks are going to the Stanley Cup Finals. Let that sink in for a moment.

Game Notes:

* Brent Burns added an assist, finished a +4 and led all skaters with three blocked shots.

* Dainius Zubrus led all San Jose skaters with six hits.

* Joe Thornton tallied his sixth assist of the series and now ranks second in the NHL with 15 assists in these playoffs.

* Joe Pavelski potted his league-leading 13th goal of the playoffs and led all skaters with five shots on net. Pavelski's 13 goals are the most in a playoffs in franchise history.

* In a playoff oddity, Blues goaltender Jake Allen actually played 13 seconds in the game. Following a stoppage with Brian Elliott pulled, Hitchcock elected to insert Allen because of his puck handling skills, which would have helped the Blues move the puck out of their own end.

* Metallica front man James Hatfield opened the Sharks locker room door, which has become a playoff pre-game event in San Jose. The Sharks have featured a celebrity in each of their playoff games this season.

* In what has become a common hockey superstition, Joe Pavelski did not touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, awarded to the Western Conference Finals winner at the conclusion of the game. The trophy is placed on a table and presented to the winning team's captain, but its considered bad luck to touch the trophy leading up to the Stanley Cup Finals. The entire Sharks team huddled around the trophy for a photo, but nobody in teal touched it.





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Scoring
1 2 3 T
STL 0 0 2 2
SJ 1 1 3 5
1st period - 1, SJ, Pavelski 13 (Thornton, Hertl), 3:57.
2nd period - 2, SJ, Ward 5 (Burns, Tierney), 5:02.
3rd period - 3, SJ, Ward 6 (Couture), 3:01. 4, SJ, Donskoi 5 (Couture, Marleau), 8:11. 5, STL, Tarasenko 8 (Lehtera, Parayko), 11:39. 6, STL, Tarasenko 9 (Stastny), 16:25. 7, SJ, Couture 8 (Vlasic), 19:40, (en).
Penalties
1st period - None.
2nd period - Brouwer, STL (interference), 0:36; Upshall, STL (high sticking - double minor), 6:08.
3rd period - Shattenkirk, STL (cross checking), 15:35; Wingels, SJ (slashing), 15:35.
Goaltending
Shots Saves
STL - Elliott 26 22
STL - Allen 0 0
STL - empty net 1 0
SJ - Jones 26 24
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
STL 5 11 10 26
SJ 9 10 8 27
Power Play Conversion
STL 0 of 1
SJ 0 of 3
3 Stars of the Game
Joel Ward
Patrick Marleau
Logan Couture
Attendance
17,562
Officials
Referees: Watson, O'Rourke. Linesmen: Murphy, Kovachik.
Holiday Gifts at BustedTees

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