Sharks win Game 6, book ticket to first Stanley Cup final in team history

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

All it took was a quarter century of blood, sweat and playoff anguish. Finally, the San Jose Sharks will play in a Stanley Cup final. They came home to the SAP Center for Game 6 of their Western Conference final Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues. Whereas previous incarnations of the Sharks may have crumbled under the pressure, the 2015-16 version showed killer instinct right away. They took the lead on a Joe Pavelski goal 3:57 into the first period and never relinquished it, winning 5-2, weathering a mini-storm from the Blues in the third.

The San Jose Sharks arrived on the NHL scene in 1991-92, kicking off the NHL’s Sun Belt expansion. The early years were ugly as can be, with the Sharks winning 28 game over their first two seasons combined, joining the Mount Rushmore of awful hockey teams with the 1974-75 Washington Capitals and the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators. The Sharks awakened as a relevant team in 1993-94 under coach Kevin Constantine when they upset the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs and have been a competitive franchise ever since, making the post-season in 18 their past 22 campaigns. But they were perpetually the so-close-yet-so far team, losing three times in the Western Conference final, twice during Jumbo Joe Thornton’s prime. Coach Ron Wilson couldn’t get them over the top. Todd McLellan couldn’t do it.

But, finally, the Sharks are Stanley Cup finalists. They toppled the St. Louis Blues in six games, shutting down St. Louis’ most dangerous forwards, especially Vladimir Tarasenko, whose lone goals game with the score 4-0 in Game 6. The Sharks’ elite players shone through, especially Pavelski, who scored his 13th goal of the playoffs in Game 6 and has to be the Conn Smythe Trophy frontrunner right now.

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Watch Martin Jones’ massive pad save on Jori Lehtera one timer in Game 6

Matt Larkin
Martin Jones. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

Let’s be honest: we could rhyme off several Conn Smythe Trophy candidates from the San Jose Sharks before we get to goaltender Martin Jones. It’s nothing against Jones. It’s just that he hasn’t been too busy. Entering Game 6 of the Western Conference final against the St. Louis Blues, Jones had faced 26 or fewer shots in every game, though he was pulled in one of those.

The Blues managed just five shots in the first period of Game 5 as they faced elimination, and they’d fallen behind 2-0 by the 5:02 mark of the second period. They gained momentum later in the second, however, managing 11 shots on Jones. They finally tested him, none more than center Jori Lehtera, who had a 10-bell chance in the slot on a one-time feed from Robby Fabbri halfway through the period. Watch Jones’ smooth pad save:

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Watch as Brouwer continues brilliant post-season with unbelievable baseball-style goal

Jared Clinton
Troy Brouwer (via NHL.com)

In the 78 career post-season games St. Louis Blues winger Troy Brouwer had played heading into the 2015-16 playoffs, he had always performed well but he wasn’t exactly a consistent goal scorer or frequently found on the scoresheet. Through the six playoffs that Brouwer had played in, he had scored seven goals and 19 points. Not bad, but not great.

This season’s playoff run has been different, though, and through 19 games Brouwer is having the post-season of his career.

Heading into Game 5 of the Western Conference final, Brouwer had scored seven times, matching his career output over the course of one single playoff. And it took only 15 minutes of play in Monday’s contest for Brouwer to get goal No. 8, and the tally came in style.

As the Blues rushed into the offensive zone, a shot from Paul Stastny was turned aside by San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones. But Jones’ attempt to turn the puck aside and into the corner caused it to go into the air into the path of an oncoming Brouwer. As he came toward the puck, Brouwer took aim, swatted it out of mid-air and into the cage behind Jones: Read more

Sharks on the cusp of Stanley Cup final berth with big Game 5 victory

Chris Tierney celebrates with Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

The San Jose Sharks had never been closer than two wins away from the Stanley Cup final. That was until following Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

With the chance to take a 3-2 series lead and push the St. Louis Blues to the brink of elimination, the Sharks saw their opportunity and took it. And as it has been for much of the post-season, it was the Sharks’ deadly power play that took over and captain Joe Pavelski who made his presence felt when the Sharks needed someone to step up.

Less than three minutes into the second frame, with St. Louis leading 2-1, Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was whistled for roughing Tommy Wingels. Letting the Sharks power play go to work was the Blues’ first mistake, and San Jose got the game-tying goal from Joel Ward on their first man advantage opportunity of the night. And though the Blues would again pull ahead on a power play of their own, their inability to stay out of the penalty box would cost them in a big way.

Shattenkirk again headed to the box, this time late in the second period for hooking, and the Sharks top power play unit made the opportunity count. After working the puck around the Blues’ zone for what felt like an eternity, the Sharks got the puck below the goal line to Joe Thornton who spotted Pavelski sneaking in from the blueline. ‘Little Joe’ connected with a one-timer: Read more

Are the Lightning and Blues toast already? Here’s why they should worry

Andrei Vasilevskiy.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Unstoppable force meets immovable object. Wasn’t that supposed to be the theme for both conference final matchups in these playoffs?

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins looked dead even on paper in the East. The Bolts lost just twice in their first two rounds, they boasted the best goalie left in the playoffs in Ben Bishop, Jonathan Drouin was breaking out as a playmaker, and Nikita Kucherov’s nine goals in 10 games eased the sting of losing Steven Stamkos to a blood clot. The Penguins, meanwhile, overwhelmed the first-place Washington Capitals with their speed, topping them in Round 2, and Sidney Crosby and Co. suddenly looked like serious Stanley Cup contenders. Two blindingly quick offensive squads, both of which had received great goaltending, going head to head. Seven games seemed destined.

On the West side of the bracket: the exorcist teams, the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues, both of which cast out their choker demons in Round 1 by collectively knocking off the only teams to win the Stanley Cup since 2011, the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks and Blues had seven-game wars in their divisional final matchups, both advanced, and both oozed monkey-off-the-back swagger entering the final four. Again, this series looked like a seven-gamer on paper.

And while each series only sits at 2-1, nowhere near over, they sure don’t feel close, do they?

The ice has been chiselled into a ramp-like surface in the Lightning/Penguins series, with the latter skating downhill the entire time. Pittsburgh has outshot Tampa Bay 35-20, 41-20 and 48-28 in the three games, good for a 124-68 margin. The Pens have had the shots advantage in eight of 10 periods, including 3-0 in Game 2’s overtime, with one period tied in shots and one period in which the Bolts had the edge. If you’re an analytics advocate, look away. Pittsburgh’s Corsi margins have been 70-41, 69-44 and 78-50. The series really should be 3-0, but Andrei Vasilevskiy stole Game 1 after replacing injured Bishop.

The Blues, meanwhile, won Game 1 at home but have since been shut out in back to back games, which has never happened over their 40 playoff campaigns. They seemingly have no answer for the star power of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns.

So what gives? It might seem silly to write off the Bolts and Blues so quickly, but the sentiment is out there. In the past 24 hours I’ve been asked, “Will the Lightning/Penguins series be over in a hurry?” and “Will the Blues fire ‘Hitch if they bomb out 4-1″? So let’s investigate how – and if – the trailing teams might climb back into their series.

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Ken Hitchcock is right – playoffs are for guys who wear big-boy pants

Vladimir Tarasenko.

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has been around the game for a long time. He’s smart and experienced and there is almost nothing he hasn’t seen at the NHL level. That’s why when he spoke about the Blues’ struggles to score in the Western Conference final, it was, as usual, worth taking note.

After the Blues’ 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks that stretched their goalless streak in this series to 130 minutes and 45 seconds, Hitchcock was asked by reporters specifically about Vladimir Tarasenko, which is fair. He’s the centerpiece of the Blues offense and the player most likely to open the offensive floodgates.

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Tomas Hertl picks a corner on Brian Elliott, wires home pinpoint-accurate slap shot

Jared Clinton
Tomas Hertl (Nick Lust/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tomas Hertl entered Game 3 of the Western Conference final following a very odd pattern.

In San Jose’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks winger scored in the opening game. For the remaining four games of the series, though, he was unable to find the back of the net. When the Sharks made it to the second round to square off against the Nashville Predators, Hertl again found the net in Game 1. However, over the next six games, Hertl again was held out of the goal column. So when he scored in Game 1 of the conference final and was held scoreless in Game 2, it seemed again like he might hit another series-long drought.

He broke the strange streak in first period of Game 3, though, and he did so with a no-doubter of a slap shot. Hertl found himself wide open and received a perfect cross-ice pass from Sharks captain Joe Pavelski with little more than four minutes remaining in the opening frame, picked a spot over St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott’s glove and laid into shot that came out of the net as fast as it went in: Read more

Sharks chase Elliott, Jones posts second-straight shutout in emphatic Game 3 victory

Brent Burns celebrates with Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Being that Thursday night was only Game 3 between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks, it was hardly a must-win for either team. Yet, somehow, it felt that way for the Blues.

Through two games and a series split in St. Louis, it felt as though the Sharks had dominated play. And the reason it felt that way is because, frankly, it had been that way. When the score has been close in the Western Conference final — when games have been tied or the Sharks needed a goal — it has appeared as though San Jose has been able to control the run of play at will.

So, even though Game 3 wasn’t necessarily a must-win for St. Louis, it seemed essential that the Blues come out of the gate and play like a team that was in dire need of the series lead Thursday night. And the Blues did. They really, truly did. Problem is the Blues’ controlling of the play lasted only mere minutes into the first frame, and after that, it was the Sharks’ game to lose. And though it took San Jose nearly 16 minutes to open the scoring — which came on a pinpoint-accurate shot by Tomas Hertl, no less — Game 3 never really felt all that close as the Sharks skated to a 3-0 victory. Read more