By Charles A. Turner Jr. | @ChuckTBeats
The San Jose Sharks have punched their ticket for the NHL Western Conference Finals by beating the Nashville Predators 5-0. The Sharks dominated from the opening puck drop with a Joe Pavelski goal at the 10:58 mark of the 1st period during a power play thanks to assists by Patrick Marleau & Joe Thorton. Joel Ward followed up with the second goal after assists from Melker Karlsson & Marc-Edouard Valasic lead to a nice between-the-legs shot on goalie Pekka Rinne at 3:09 of the 1st period.
After intermission, the Sharks wasted no time scoring their third goal after Logan Couture converted an unassisted goal after only 36 seconds of the second period. Both teams played strong defense for the rest of the 2nd period but a power play at the end of the period lead to an opportunity that the Sharks capitalized on early in the 3rd. Veteran Joe Thornton scored the Sharks' fourth goal after a Logan Couture assist. The Sharks continued to overwhelm the Predators in the third and Patrick Marleau scored their fifth and final goal of the game at 16:06 of the 3rd period following Logan Couture & Joonas Donski assists.
In addition to the Sharks' dominance, another highlight of the game would have to be Pekka Rinne’s meltdown following the fifth goal. Rinne, obviously frustrated with his play, took his anger out on his hockey stick by smashing it into the side of the goal until it broke, then tossed it to the side in anger. Predators’ coach, Peter Laviolette, substituted Rinne out of the game following this incident for goalie Carter Hutton who finished the game without being scored on.
This is the Sharks first time back in the Conference Finals since the 2011 playoffs and the franchise’s fourth time in the Conference Finals. They lost the 2011 Conference finals 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks. Only five players from the 2011 playoff team are still on the current Sharks roster.
San Jose will now go on to face the St. Louis Blues, who had the second best record in the Western Conference this year and the third best record in the NHL. The Sharks played the Blues three times during the regular season with the Sharks winning two out of the three games, both wins were in St. Louis while the loss came at home in San Jose. The St. Louis Blues will be the home team in this series as the Sharks look to take home ice advantage away from the Blues with their strong road play. Game 1 is set for Sunday at 5pm on NBC Sports Network.