Sharks advance to first Cup final
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The roar started in the third period. The sold out home crowd, who had waited a generation for this moment, rose up in unison to begin the countdown on the biggest win in San Jose Sharks franchise history.
Finally, after 25 years, the moment they waited for had arrived.
Joel Ward scored twice and Martin Jones made 24 saves as the Sharks beat the St. Louis Blues 5-2 to win the Western Conference final series four games to two and clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
“Unbelievable,” said Sharks center Joe Thornton, “especially to do it here at home. These guys have been waiting 25 years. All of us have been waiting a long time, too.”
Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Logan Couture also scored for the Sharks, who await the winner of the Eastern Conference final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Game 7 of that series is Thursday.
Asked if he had a preferred opponent in the Cup finals, Thornton had a giddy reply.
“I’ll play ‘em both, if they want to dress 40,” he said.
Only two active NHL players have played more games than Thornton without reaching the Finals and one is Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau.
“This feels great,” said Marleau, who has spent all 18 of his seasons in San Jose. “But we know it’s just another step. We’ve got another step to go.”
Game 1 of the Cup final is Monday. The series would start in Pittsburgh if the Penguins win. If the Lightning win, it would start at SAP Center.
Pavelski, the Sharks’ first-year captain, had his picture taken with the Clarence Campbell bowl, awarded each season to the winner of the Western Conference.
As is superstition, Pavelski didn’t touch the trophy. In fact, the team took a picture with the trophy but no one touched it.
After all, the Sharks haven’t reached their goal just yet. But Wednesday’s win was still a historic step.
The Sharks opened the scoring in Game 6 just 3:57 into the first period. Tomas Hertl sent a long pass up ice that Thornton caught up to as he went in on a breakaway on Blues goalie Brian Elliott.
Thornton’s shot went wide, but Pavelski picked up the loose puck, came in front and jammed it past Elliott on a second effort. Thornton’s assist was his 100th career playoff point with the Sharks.
“That guy has been a complete stud from Day One,” Thornton said of Pavelski, the man who replaced Thornton as captain two years ago.
The goal came moments after Jones made a huge stop on a shot by the Blues’ Alex Steen to keep the game scoreless.
Ward then scored his fifth of the playoffs in the second period, tipping in a shot from the point by Brent Burns 5:02 for a 2-0 Sharks lead.
Ward’s second goal, his fourth in the last two games, came off an assist from Logan Couture 3:01 into the third period and all but sealed the win. Couture then assisted on Donskoi’s fifth goal of the playoffs, a one-timer that got past Elliott.
Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice for his first two goals of the series, with his second coming with 3:35 to go in the third period to cut the Sharks’ lead to 4-2.
The Sharks, though, regrouped and, Couture’s goal with 19.7 seconds left punctuated the win.