Los Angeles: The San Jose Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history on Wednesday by fending off the St Louis Blues 5-2 in game six of their Eastern Conference series.
Joel Ward scored two goals and Martin Jones stopped 24 of 26 shots as the Sharks eliminated the Blues four games to two in front of a crowd of 17,500 at the SAP Center arena in San Jose.
“It is awesome,” said forward Joe Thornton, who has won gold at the Olympics, World Cup and World Junior Championships but doesn’t have a Stanley Cup ring.
“It is pretty sweet to do it at home. These guys (fans) have been waiting 25 years for this and some of us have been waiting a long time too. So it is pretty sweet.”
Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Logan Couture also scored in the clinching game for the Sharks, a team that joined the league in 1991.
By virtue of winning the NHL semi-final series, the Sharks advance to their first appearance in the league championship series after missing the post season the previous year.
San Jose will open the Stanley Cup final against the winner of Thursday’s game seven between Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Sharks have had some close calls in the play-offs before and some monumental meltdowns. In 2014, they had a 3-0 series lead before losing in game seven to the Los Angeles Kings.
Ward scored his second goal of the game and sixth of the play-off series three minutes into the third period by deflecting a Couture pass by Blues goalie Brian Elliott.
“The third goal was the killer,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
Donskoi clinched it with his fifth goal of the playoffs five minutes later by converting another Couture feed. And Couture capped a three-point evening with an empty-net marker with 19 seconds left.
The Blues snapped Jones attempt at a third shutout of the series when Vladimir Tarasenko finally tallied his first point of the series with a goal at 11:39. Tarasenko scored again at 16:25.
The Sharks scored the only goal of the first period as Pavelski bagged his NHL playoff-leading 13th goal on a wraparound four minutes into the game.
The Blues were playing their 20th game of the postseason and Hitchcock said some of his players were simply worn out.
“We had individuals that were struggling,” he said. “We made some tired decisions late in periods and shifts that we hadn’t made.”
Thornton said he is not picky about who the Sharks play next.
“I will play both teams. If they want to dress 40 guys I will play them both.”