Clarence S. Campbell Trophy – San Jose’s road to the finals

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With a new coach in Peter Deboer, the San Jose Sharks bounced back from missing the playoffs last year, putting up a 46-30-6 record and have now gone on to even better things in the post-season.

When the Stanley Cup Playoffs began back on April 13th, there were 16 teams all competing for the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. Now with more and more teams getting eliminated, we finally know who the first team to make the finals is, and for the first time in their history the San Jose Sharks will have the chance to hoist the cup.

The Sharks will take on either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning in the final, those two teams play their game 7 tonight after Pittsburgh tied the series up at 3 thanks to a big 5 – 2 win two nights ago.

Now the two teams left in the Eastern Conference will meet the Western Conference champions San Jose who defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games in what was a surprisingly high scoring series.

The Sharks began their playoffs as an outside shot to reach the final, they came into the post-season with 98 points on the year, finishing up third in the pacific division and setting up a meeting with California rivals the Los Angeles Kings in round one.

Despite the Kings’ recent successes of two Stanley Cups with wins in 2012 and 2014, the Kings were playing golf in April last year, and this year the Kings didn’t have to wait long to get back on the golf course after San Jose dismantled them in five games.

For most of the series the teams were pretty close. Game one on April 14 the Sharks took the edge in a 4 – 3 contest, two nights later it was another one-goal decision that separated the sides in a 2 – 1 San Jose win.

After the Kings dropped both of their first home-ice games, they went into San Jose and thanks to an overtime goal from Tanner Pearson, the Kings picked up their only win of the series to avoid the sweep.

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San Jose picked up another win in game four and it was another game decided by just one goal, but the threat of elimination could have gotten to the Kings in game five as the Sharks put up a 6 – 3 series clinching win thanks to two goals from Joonas Donskoi and three assists on the night from Brent Burns who finished the series with eight points followed by Captain Joe Pavelski with six and Logan Couture finishing up with five.

After the Sharks made it past the first round for the first time since 2013, they set up a meeting with the Nashville Predators who many saw having the upper hand in this matchup and this one went the distance.

Much like round one, the Sharks took a 2 – 0 lead in the series, before dropping game three. This time the Sharks went on to drop game four for a 2 – 2 series tie. The teams traded wins in games five and six and then the Sharks showed just how deadly they can be in game seven.

Joe Pavelski opened the scoring midway through the first with his 9th goal of the playoffs before Joel Ward netted a second against the Predators who he played 230 games for before his four-year stint with the Washington Capitals. Now in San Jose, Ward was showing his playoff prowess and helping his team past the second round for the first time in his career. There was just one goal in the second frame as Logan Couture stole the puck and scored unassisted.

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Couture then assisted on the Sharks next two goals, assisting on Joe Thorntons early third period goal and Patrick Marleau’s marker in the fourth minute of the third that closed out the scoring in a dominant 5 – 0 victory that set up a meeting with the St. Louis Blues in the Sharks fourth trip to the Conference finals in their 26-year history.

I’ll admit, despite my initial pick for the Cup being the Washington Capitals (who again didn’t make it out of round 2) I picked the Dallas Stars to be their opponent (who also didn’t make it out of round 2). After watching the Stars’ series against St. Louis at this point I wanted San Jose to make it through, but I believed the Blues were too deadly to not go all the way to win the cup. Given these predictions I won’t be predicting who out of the Sharks and Penguins/Lightning win the cup, because I will be wrong.

But this series I thought would last five maybe six games and the Blues would make the finals, and after the first game I was on course. The Blues took a 2 – 1 win on home ice in game one, but then the Sharks sprang back into life in game two.

It’s one thing to get a win on the road in the post-season, but the Sharks went one better and shutout the Blues in their own building with a 4 – 0 score-line with Tommy Wingels and Dainius Zubrus netting a goal each and Brent Burns scoring twice.

With the Sharks returning home, the teams went 1 – 1 again, the Sharks AGAIN shutout the blues in Game 3, but the Blues woke up with a 6 – 3 win in game five.

But it’s in games five and six that the Sharks showed despite some of their elder statesmen (Thornton and Marleau) they still are a team to watch out for at least for the final as in 120 minutes of hockey in the playoffs, the Sharks put up 11 goals to clinch the series.

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First up the Sharks bounced back from a 6 – 3 loss win a 6 – 3 win, then they didn’t choke in their first attempt at making their first Stanley Cup final in team history with a massive 5 – 2 win. Joe Pavelski who has been just one of the Sharks many huge performers in the post-season opened the scoring with his 13th goal of these Stanley Cup playoffs before Joel Ward scored twice to give San Jose a 3 – 0 lead. In the third period Joonas Donskoi made it a 4 – 0 lead putting the Sharks in the finals barring an unheard of comeback from the Blues to force game 7. Vladimir Tarasenko gave it his best effort with two goals but Logan Couture sealed it with an empty net goal in the last 30 seconds, sending the Sharks into the Finals.

Now it’s a waiting game to see their opponents but the Sharks look deadly, Joe Pavelski has been phenomenal with 13 goals, Joe Thornton has shown despite being 36-years old he’s still relevant. He bounced back from a 65-point season last year to put up a point-per-game season, the seventh 80+ point season of his career.

The biggest question I had for the Sharks coming into the playoffs was between the pipes are they good enough to go far?

Coming into the playoffs I would’ve told you a big fat no, even now I’d say it probably isn’t good enough to really be the deciding factor of their run so far, they’ve had a great all-round game but even so, Martin Jones has been solid. In 18 starts he’s put up a 2.12 goals against average (GAA) and a .912 save percentage, which for goaltenders who’ve played over 10 games would be good for third in GAA sixth best in save percentage.

So you could say that despite Jones not really being an established starter before coming to the Sharks (that’s what backing up Jonathan Quick does to you) he has shown that you can rely on him to guide your team, but it’s the Sharks mixture of veteran leadership and exciting prospects that makes this Sharks team have a real chance when the final start in the next few days.

It could be a big opportunity for the Sharks players to repay two long-serving members of the team whose opportunity to get their names engraved on the cup is starting to run out with Patrick Marleau spending his entire career from 1997 until now with the side, and Joe Thornton being one of the most consistent performers on the roster since joining the Sharks midway through the 2005-06 season.

So with the Lightning and Penguins awaiting San Jose, it should be a great final, and it’s always sweeter to see a team win their first cup so I’ll be rooting for San Jose.

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