At last, Sharks advance to Stanley Cup Final


SAN JOSE – A berth in the Stanley Cup Final, 25 years in the making for the San Jose organization and fans, came true in the closing seconds of the game Wednesday night at SAP Center.
The Sharks built a 4-0 lead through 48 minutes and enjoyed 51 minutes of shutout goaltending from Martin Jones before holding on to defeat the St. Louis Blues 5-2 and take the Western Conference Final in six games.
The Stanley Cup Final begins the best 4-of-7 series on Monday May 30. San Jose could be the home team for the first two games if Tampa Bay defeats Pittsburgh Thursday night in the Game Seven. If Pittsburgh wins, the Penguins host the Sharks for the first two games.
“We’re very happy for a lot of people here,” Joel Ward, owner of two goals, said of the Sharks gaining the Final for the first time. “We are going to enjoy this.”
Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 1-0 cushion 3:57 into the first period with his 13th goal on the post-season. Tomas Hertl ignited the scoring play when he collected a long rebound of a Jones save and lofted the puck toward the St. Louis zone. Joe Thornton was behind the defense for a quick shot that slid past the netting. Pavelski was in position to take the puck and do a wrap-around by the right post to beat goaltender Brian Elliott.
Ward netted the second and third goals to make it a 3-0 advantage.
Brent Burns, at the right point, turned a Chris Tierney pass into a high shot through traffic toward Elliott. Ward has moving across the low slot when he deflected the pass behind Elliott with 5:02 gone in the second period.
Ward was able to stay away from a defender near the right post with 3:01 gone in the third period when Logan Couture slid a pass to Ward for the tap-in behind Elliott.
“I am a big believer if you are a clutch player, that’s a gift that doesn’t go away,” coach Peter DeBoer said of Ward, one of several additions to the Sharks roster this season.
Sensing the opportunity to close out the series, San Jose added a fourth unanswered goal at 8:11 of the third. Patrick Marleau kept the puck inside the Blues zone before turning back to pass to an advancing Couture. Joonas Donskoi rushed up the slot, taking Couture’s feed and one-timing a high shot past a beaten Elliott.
Vladimir Tarasenko ended his series scoring drought by notching two goals to cut the Sharks lead to 4-2 with 1:35 left.
Couture ended the suspense with 19.7 seconds left with an empty-net goal.
“Jonesy is so big, so calm in there,” Thornton said of the goaltender who made 24 saves.
“We truly believe we have a deep team,” Thornton explained about the changes made to the Sharks roster.
St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock lauded the Sharks’ play over the six games.
“Their ability to check won them the series,” said the coach. “We had some tired decisions late in shifts, late in periods. We were unable to close out series through multiple mistakes. There was constant pressure (by the Sharks).”