The top-seeded Sharks, with yet another big effort from center Joe Pavelski, defeated the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche 5-2 Saturday night at the Pepsi Center to clinch the Western Conference quarterfinal series in six games.
The Sharks have plenty more work to do in order to reach their ultimate goal, capturing the Stanley Cup, but at least now they can put last year's disappointing first-round playoff exit to Anaheim behind them for good.
"It was a hard series for us to play," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of facing the Avalanche. "One (vs.) eight, we learned last year how tough that can be -- just because the numbers are one and eight, not because the teams are that far apart.
"Colorado did a tremendous job in competing. They pushed us to the limit. It was a tough series for us, not only while the play was going on – the passing, the hitting and the shooting – it was tough between the ears. I was proud that we managed that part of the series as well."
It probably was fitting for Dan Boyle and Pavelski to come through in the clutch in the third period after the Avalanche grabbed a 2-1 lead at 4:51 on a goal by Brandon Yip.
Boyle, whose overtime miscue in Game 3 resulted in a 2-1 Avalanche win, ripped a shot into the net at 7:33 to tie the game. Pavelski, who scored a series-leading five goals, connected on a 2-on-1 rush 89 seconds later to put the Sharks ahead for good.
The Sharks closed out the game with empty-net goals from Devin Setoguchi and Douglas Murray in the final minute to wrap up their first Game 6 victory in 10 tries on the road since entering the NHL in 1991. Overall, they are 3-13 in Game 6 after winning one for the first time since beating Colorado in 2004.
None of the Sharks wanted any part of playing a deciding game on Tuesday night.
"We wanted it. We didn't want to play a Game 7," said Pavelski, who scored a goal in each of the final three games, all victories. "They went ahead, but there was no quit there. We kind of said, 'We want this one.' We were going to get a couple chances, so let's bury them. We got the opportunities and they went in.
"It's good. I think maybe we earned a day off instead of playing that Game 7. It's always important when you get to this time of the year."
Pavelski momentarily lost the puck in the left circle before scoring, but he regained it in time to whip it behind goalie Craig Anderson, who stopped 29 of 32 shots before leaving the ice for an extra skater with 1:40 remaining.
Boyle, who logged a game-high 25:06 in ice time, had 2 goals and 2 assists in the final three games after his Game 3 mistake, an attempt at sending the puck around the boards that went off the stick of Avalanche rookie Ryan O'Reilly and into the net.
"It was a tough break for us and for me, but that's in the past now," Boyle said. "Now it's gone. I'm sure it will be on some highlight reels for years to come, but it's just a growing and learning experience."
Anderson didn't have a chance to make a save on Boyle's goal. After taking a pass from Dany Heatley above the right circle, Boyle stepped to his left, looking for a screen. He found one in Avalanche forward Chris Stewart and put a laser into the top right corner of the net. Anderson never saw the shot.
"I dragged it to the middle," Boyle said. "In most of the games, they did a great job of having a guy in front blocking shots. That was kind of one play where they didn't have a guy in front of me, so I could tee it up."
Said Anderson: "My own guy screened me. He tried to block it, and Dan Boyle has a great shot and he picked a corner. It went right by our guy. Any shooter other than him and I don't think it goes in. So credit to Dan Boyle for making a great shot. Our guy was trying to pay the price and we just missed it."
It didn't take long for the Sharks to take the lead -- just 47 seconds.
Pavelski controlled the puck behind the Avalanche net while outmuscling defenseman Kyle Cumiskey. He moved to the side of the net and, while on his knees, jammed the puck past Anderson.
"We realized their season was on the line and that they were going to come out and make a push," Pavelski said. "We said, 'Let's not wait for that. Let's make a push of our own.' I was a little fortunate to win a battle behind the net."
The Avalanche tied the game 1-1 and snapped a long goal-less drought on a goal by Marek Svatos at 6:14 of the second period. Svatos skated down the left side along the boards with Joe Thornton. He moved into the circle, cut through the slot and rammed the puck by goalie Evgeni Nabokov's left pad.
The Avalanche had gone 133 minutes and 11 seconds without scoring since Stastny connected for a power-play goal early in the second period of Game 4.
Naturally, the Avalanche is disappointed now that its season has ended, but first-year coach Joe Sacco and a number of young players helped revitalize a team that finished in the conference basement last season.
"It was a good series," Sacco said. "We battled extremely hard. It was what we expected. It was hard fought. Our guys competed throughout the series. Not once did we ever mention our injuries, but we have to admit that it affected us, no question, but the guys that stepped in did a good job."
Calder Trophy finalist Matt Duchene lost both of his regular wingers to injuries. Peter Mueller missed the entire series with a concussion and Milan Hejduk was sidelined after suffering an upper body injury in a collision with Paul Stastny early in Game 3.
"Give their guys credit," Anderson said of the Sharks. "They made some good plays and they got everything because they earned it. We did not give them any freebies. They worked hard. Our guys battled, and that's just the way things go sometimes."
Shift of the Night: Avalanche forwards Paul Stastny and Brandon Yip were pretty quiet through two periods – neither had a shot on goal -- but they came through at 4:51 of the third period and combined to give Colorado a brief 2-1 lead. Stastny sidestepped a check by Sharks defenseman Jason Demers in the right corner and passed to Yip driving down the slot. Yip knocked the puck past goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
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