By Ryan Ward | @RyanJWard
After 25 long years and 18 playoff appearances, the San Jose Sharks are finally heading to their first Stanley Cup Finals in team history, clinching the Western Conference title with a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues at the Shark Tank.
It’s been an arduous road for the Sharks and their loyal fans, but in a year when expectations were as low as they’ve been in over a decade, they’ll finally have the chance to play for hockey’s ultimate prize. First-year coach Peter DeBoer found a way to ignite the franchise in short order. When given a chance to clinch a trip to the finals in front of a rowdy Wednesday night crowd chanting “We want the Cup!”, DeBoer's men did not waste their opportunity.
It was only fitting that former captain Joe Thornton and current captain Joe Pavelski initiated the scoring in the biggest game in Sharks history, with Thornton missing the net on a breakaway attempt and Pavelski slamming home the rebound opportunity on a wraparound. Pavelski’s NHL-leading 13th playoff goal gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead they would never relinquish, racing ahead 4-0 midway through the 2nd period. After allowing back-to-back goals by the Blues in the 3rd, the Sharks were able to tighten up defensively and exhaust any thoughts of a Blues comeback, finishing the scoring with a Logan Couture empty-net goal and sending the Sharks crowd into a (feeding) frenzy.
San Jose now awaits the winner of tonight’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. A Lightning victory would give the Sharks home-ice advantage in the Cup, with Game 1 being played next Monday at The Tank. A Penguins victory would mean the Sharks travel to Pittsburgh for Games 1 & 2.
After nine head coaches, six division titles, and three previous defeats in the Western Conference finals, the Sharks have gotten over the hump and now have a chance to bring Lord Stanley's Cup home to the Bay Area. If they’re able to do so, The Bay will have claimed three of the four major sports championships within the last six years. Four more wins and San Jose will officially become the center of the ice hockey universe; at least for one glorious year.