SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks are no longer playoff disappointments. They’re no longer a team that needs to be questioned about why they faltered in the biggest games at the most important times of year.
They no longer need to be queried about why the 2015-16 version of the Sharks are different – simply because they are.
The San Jose Sharks are going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
The Sharks got scoring from their core guys, new addition Joel Ward and received sound goaltending from Martin Jones to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and punch their ticket to a Cup Final in a 5-2 win.
This is San Jose’s 25th anniversary season and the organization has never made a Stanley Cup Final. They were one of six teams in the NHL to never make a Cup Final and the second-oldest behind the Arizona Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise.
Old stalwarts Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both 36, have played a combined 2,778 NHL regular season games and 315 playoff games between them before making their first Stanley Cup Final.
The organization had made the Western Conference Final three times and never won more than two games.
The only players on this Sharks team to make a Cup Final were forward Dainius Zubrus and Jones, though Jones wasn't the starter.
The last time the Sharks were in the playoffs was 2014 when they were up 3-0 in their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings and blew that advantage. In 2014-15 San Jose didn't make the playoffs and dealt with turmoil after they stripped Thornton of his captain's 'C' the prior offseason.
But a strong summer by general manager Doug Wilson that included signing Ward and defenseman Paul Martin and hiring coach Peter DeBoer helped lead to this moment.
The Sharks gave the 35-year-old Ward a three-year $9.825 million contract for his savvy veteran presence and big playoff numbers. He delivered in Game 6.
Early in the third period Ward put the game away with a tap-in goal off a feed from Logan Couture in front of Blues goaltender Brian Elliott
Ward’s deflection 5:02 into the second period got the Sharks up 2-0. Defenseman Brent Burns fired a shot from the point that Ward redirected in front of Elliott.
The Sharks got on the board first 3:57 into the first period. Captain Pavelski took a feed from Joe Thornton behind the net and put the puck past Elliott to make the game 1-0. This sent the capacity crowd of 17.562 at SAP Center into a frenzy.
The goal came right after Jones made a glove save on Blues forward Alex Steen in the slot.
The Blues put together a solid stretch in the second period after they killed off a four-minute double minor on Scottie Upshall. This included a one-timer scoring chance by Jori Lehtera on Jones, but Jones stuck out his left pad for a sprawling save.
This was St. Louis best opportunity and would have put the game at 2-1.
The loss for the Blues ends their best playoff run in the Ken Hitchcock era as coach. Before this postseason St. Louis had gone out in the first-round three straight seasons. Even though the Blues went far they'll still face offseason questions. Captain David Backes is an unrestricted free agent.
Also young sniper Vladimir Tarasenko was held to just two goals. Those came in the final 10 minutes when the Sharks were up 4-0 and the game was effectively put away.
The Blues have said that Tarasenko is healthy, but his problems were a big reason why the Blues didn't win the series.
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