These aren’t the Same Ol’ Sharks.
After years of playoff frustration, San Jose is headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. The Sharks punched their ticket with a 5–2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.
Joel Ward scored twice to pace the home team, including the eventual game-winner on a net-front tap-in early in the third period. It was the second consecutive two-goal game for the 35-year-old veteran.
"Last year, when I was watching the post-season, Wardy was a huge part of Washington," said Sharks alternate captain Joe Thornton. "You saw again tonight, when the game gets a little bit more important, Wardy always shows up and has a big game."
Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Logan Couture added goals for the Sharks, who raced out to a 4–0 lead before Vladimir Tarasenko tallied twice in the dying minutes for the Blues. The goals were his first points in the series.
Martin Jones made 24 saves to record the victory. Brian Elliott stopped 22 shots for the Blues.
The Sharks now await the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Tampa Bay Lightning series. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final is Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Here’s a quick look at the key moments in this historic win:
The significance wasn’t apparent at the moment, but Jones made his biggest save of the game just three minutes in. The Blues were creating havoc on the cycle when Paul Stastny found Alex Steen all alone in the high slot. The winger fired a sizzling wrister but Jones, who had ventured aggressively out of his net, made a snappy glove save.
Just 13 seconds later, Pavelski collected a rebound after a Thornton breakaway attempt and beat Elliott on a wraparound/jam play. The goal ignited the SAP Center crowd and gave the Sharks a lead they would not relinquish.
Gif of the Night
Handshake lines are the best. Here’s a couple old Wisconsin Badgers sharing a few kind words before Pavelski moves on to challenge for the Cup.
Top Tweet, Part 1
Clarity from Blues beat writer Jeff Gordon moments after Tarasenko’s belated arrival to the series:
Tarasenko in damage control mode. Cleaning up his series stat sheet in the waning minutes. As Christian Bale would say, "Good for you."— Jeff Gordon (@gordoszone) May 26, 2016
Top Tweet, Part 2
There's a decaying portrait of Patrick Marleau locked away in a closet somewhere...
Notable Number: 5:02
The best way to knock an opponent out is to hit ’em early and hit ’em often. The Sharks did just that, lighting the lamp within the first 5:02 of each period in Game 6 to shove the Blues into a hole before they could get their feet under them.
What It Means
Funny how hockey works, ain’t it? The Sharks were the sixth-best team in the West during the regular season, and were hardly seen as a postseason threat. But they elevated their game down the stretch and ramped it up even further as the playoffs unfolded. That’s what got them through this series: The ability to manufacture and sustain intensity in a way the Blues simply couldn’t match. They were faster, more aggressive on both sides of the puck and were opportunistic around the net. It’s the textbook version of how to succeed in today’s NHL.
"Their ability to check won them the series," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They were committed a little bit better than us. They did a great job. Their forwards really worked and put a lot of pressure us on from the backside, constant pressure, and had the energy to play that way."
It's a tough end for the Blues, a team that knows a bit about playoff misery itself. They gave a good account of themselves right up to the end, when they ran out of steam against the relentlessness of the Sharks. They now face a summer of upheaval, with the real possibility of losing both their coach and their captain, David Backes.
"We're all hurting," Hitchcock said. "You don't want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don't know where you're going to be a year from now."
We'll have more on that Thursday. For now though, congrats to the Sharks, especially Thornton and Marleau, both of whom will get their first shot at the Cup starting next Monday. Congrats to GM Doug Wilson, who swung for the fences last summer knowing it might be his last chance with the club. And congrats to every Bay Area hockey fan that has stayed with this team through the highs and lows of 25 tumultuous seasons. Enjoy the ride.