NHL Playoffs Takeaways: Sharks knock out Blues, advance to Stanley Cup Final

When the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs a year ago there was a belief that their window to win a Stanley Cup with their current core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski had finally slammed shut.

As it turns out, that championship window is only just starting to open.

The Sharks are on their way to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history after eliminating the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night with a convincing 5-2 win.

They will now await the winner of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning that will be played on Thursday night. If the Penguins win that game, the Sharks will open the series in Pittsburgh on Monday night. If the Lightning win, the Sharks will host Game 1.

Here are six takeaways from what is to this point the biggest win in the 25-year history of the Sharks organization.

Joe Pavelski and the San Jose Sharks are headed to their first Stanley Cup Final. USATSI

1. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally get a chance to quiet their critics: Thornton and Marleau have been two of the best players in the league over the past decade. But no matter what they have done individually, and no matter how many games they helped the Sharks win in the regular season, they were always the scapegoats for the team's shortcomings in the postseason whether they were at fault or not.

Finally, after all of these years together in San Jose, they are in the Stanley Cup Final and are just four wins away from finally capturing a championship.

Maybe now that they have finally conquered the mountain that has been the Western Conference we can start to fully appreciate what these guys have done throughout their careers, including in the playoffs where they have been far more productive than their critics will ever acknowledge.

Marleau remains the NHL's leading postseason goal scorer since he entered the league, while Thornton's assist on Wednesday was his 100th playoff point as a member of the Sharks.

These guys have always been great players and your opinion of them should not change just because they had a better team around them and finally had things go their way in the playoffs.

2. Joe Pavelski keeps scoring, and is chasing history: The Sharks captain continued his incredible postseason run on Wednesday night when he opened the scoring just five minutes into the game, scoring his league leading 13th goal of of the playoffs.

It came just after Thornton was stopped on a breakaway by Blues goalie Brian Elliott. After the puck bounced behind the net, Pavelski was able to scoop it up and slide it into the net as Elliott was caught looking in the wrong direction.

Have a look.

Pavelski is not only the NHL's leading goal scorer this season, the 13 goals are now tied for the third most ever in a single playoff run by an American-born player. The only players ahead of him are Kevin Stevens, who scored 17 goals in 1990-91 for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Joe Mullen, who scored 16 in 1988-89 for the Calgary Flames.

3. Big-game Joel Ward came through again: Ward is the classic "playoff player." A big, physical player that always gets to the tough areas and tends to be in the right place, at the right time to score the big goal in a big playoff game.

He did it once again on Wednesday with two goals in the Sharks' win, giving him six goals this postseason.

Here is a look at his second goal which game on a beautiful pass from Logan Couture.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko tried to make it interesting late in the third period: With just eight minutes to play in regulation the Sharks were holding on to a commanding 4-0 lead and Tarasenko was still searching for his first point of the series as he continued to get shut down by the Sharks' duo of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun.

It was at that point that Tarasenko finally found the back of the net and scored a pair of goals in five minutes to at least make the Sharks sweat a little bit down the stretch. The Blues had a couple of close chances to make it a 4-3 game, but Martin Jones was able to hold them off just long enough for Couture to add an empty net goal to put the game away.

It still wasn't a great series for Tarasenko, but a lot of that was the result of him having to go up against a defense that shut down every top goal scorer it has faced so far this postseason. The guys on the other side of the ice get paid a lot of money, too, and sometimes they just outplay the other team's top guys.

5. Pete DeBoer makes the most out of his playoff appearances: Sharks coach Pete DeBoer doesn't always make the playoffs, but when he does, he makes sure that his team goes the distance. This season is only DeBoer's second postseason appearance as an NHL coach, with the other coming during the 2011-12 season in his first season behind the New Jersey Devils bench.

Both times his teams went to the Stanley Cup Final.

DeBoer's Devils lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in 2012.

6. Nobody touched the trophy: And now, for the funniest tradition of the Stanley Cup playoffs. A team winning a trophy and doing everything it can to ignore it.

Every once in a while the conference champion will touch the trophy, maybe pick it up, pass around or just hold on to it for second, but most of the time the presentation ends up looking like this.

CBS Sports Writer

Adam Gretz has been writing about the NHL and taking an analytical approach to the game since the start of the 2008 season. A member of the PHWA since 2015, he has spent more than three years covering... Full Bio

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