How The Sharks Advanced To the Stanley Cup Final

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With the San Jose Sharks 5-2 victory in game six of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues, they’ve advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 25 year franchise history.

Waiting a quarter century for a chance to fight for hockey’s crowned jewel isn’t the most exciting situation for an NHL franchise. Every team strives for success no matter the cost, the outcome, or the pain it takes to lift Lord Stanley above their head. It is easily the hardest trophy to win in all of North American sports, and Sharks’ fans ought to relish in the fact that this is a rare time for their team, as well as a historic time.

How The Sharks Advanced To the Stanley Cup Final

There have been plenty of headlines involving the Sharks this postseason. It’s only fitting to speculate why the Sharks have come so far, and how they’ve been able to defy all odds to defeat vigorous opponents on their path to the Stanley Cup Final. With that being said, here are five reasons why the Sharks advanced to hockey’s biggest stage:

Ability To Shut Down Top Players

According to NHL Network, the San Jose Sharks have been able to deny top scorers from each team they’ve played in the past three rounds. It all started with Los Angeles Kings winger Tyler Toffoli, who had 31 goals in the regular season and he ended up getting shut out completely by Martin Jones and the Sharks. In the second round, Nashville Predators 33 goal scorer Filip Forsberg was only able to net one goal throughout the seven game series. And last but not least, they ousted Vladimir Tarasenko who scored 40 goals in the regular season, only allowing him to score two goals, both of which came in the late stages of game six after the Sharks had built a four goal lead.

What’s more impressive about these individual victories is that it was not all because of the defense. Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi made great contributions with their back-checking and defensive efforts. It was clearly visible and helped ease the pressure on the Sharks defense and goaltending. Overall, this is a monstrous reason why they’re going to be fighting for the Stanley Cup.

Veterans Dealing Collateral Damage

Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have played a combined 2,778 career regular season games without reaching the Stanley Cup Final, until now. The two battle damaged forwards are eager to compete in the Cup Final and it was shown during the celebration after game six. They were seen joking, dancing and cracking a laugh with one another. The fight isn’t over yet, and their eyes are set on a bigger prize.

Through 18 playoff games, Joe Thornton has scored 3 goals and 15 assists for 18 points, while Patrick Marleau has produced 4 goals and 8 assists for 12 points. Even though the younger players like Logan Couture (22 points) and Joe Pavelski (22 points) are stealing the limelight of point production this year, it’s quite impressive that Thornton is in fifth place, and that Marleau is in fifteenth place amongst all scorers. After all, they are in the downside of their careers. Despite the fact that they are grey beards, they still seem to be producing points. Expect the senior Sharks to be more than ready for their first rodeo in the Stanley Cup Final.

Peter Deboer’s Influence

Peter Deboer came into the San Jose Sharks locker room this past summer unknowing of where he would be right now. No one expected the Sharks to make it to the Stanley Cup Final in early October, knowing that they missed the playoffs the year prior in horrible fashion.

They were competing in a difficult Western Conference and missed the playoffs going 40-33-9 and placed fifth in their division. They would eventually fire Todd McLellan and hire Deboer that summer, which would be one of the best additions to the team.

This season he led the Sharks to a 46-30-6 record for third in their division, just a mere five points away from the division lead in what was a close race to the very end. His leadership was instrumental for the Sharks, as he changed the dynamics as well as workload for his team. Deboer was able to integrate new pieces such as Joel Ward, Martin Jones, and Joonas Donskoi while helping the team progress. His commitment helped this team move forward, build confidence, and develop a playoff mentality. His line-up decisions were crucial in making sure all gears were working for the Sharks to move forward. Expect Deboer to be staying in the San Jose area for quite some time.

Third Line Dominance

Long playoff runs are all about contribution and the right players showing up. Luckily for the Sharks, their top three lines have been absolutely perfect in this years run. Melker Karlsson ( 3G, 1A-4P ), Chris Tierney ( 5G, 2A-7P ) , and Joel Ward ( 6G, 5A-11P ) have been very productive in the playoffs. It’s not just that they are scoring, it is how and when they are scoring.

In the recent game six victory, Ward came up huge with two goals in moments that defined the game, and he’s now scored four goals in his last two games. Tierney has been excellent with his front net presence, scoring three goals in the conference final. Karlsson was the quietest one of the group, and he scored in game four of the conference final. Other than scoring, he has been more efficient with his board play and defensive efforts.

The third line has been another essential piece for opponents to focus on and have been in the way of countless teams throughout the playoffs.

5. Strength In Goaltending.

Martin Jones has been frightening for opponents. His play has stayed consistent throughout the 18 games he has embarked with the Sharks, and he’s the only player on the team with Stanley Cup Final experience as he was a back-up with the Los Angeles Kings 2013-14 championship team. Thus far Jones has proven that he wants a ring where he is the starter, and to lead the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup.

Jones has boasted a 12-6 record with a 2.12 goals against, a .919 save percentage, and three shutouts in these playoffs.  He leads the playoffs in all three catagories. Any team that wants to win a Stanley Cup needs solid goaltending and he is doing the job. Jones is a big upgrade over last year’s tandem of Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock for the Sharks.

With all of the hockey world’s eyes glued on the Sharks and their possible first Stanley Cup, some have to be focusing on how they’ve gotten there. If they’re able to continue their success like they have all playoffs long, we could be seeing a new champion crowned this June. After all, this is the magic that only the Stanley Cup Playoffs can produce.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images