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Instant analysis: Blues at Sharks, Game 6

San Jose headed to Stanley Cup Final for first time in 25-year history

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 25-year history, eliminating the St. Louis Blues with a 5-2 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Wednesday.

Joe Pavelski scored his fourth goal in three games and NHL-leading 13th of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Joel Ward had two goals, giving him four in two games. Joonas Donskoi scored.

Logan Couture had an empty-net goal and two assists. He leads the League in scoring with 24 points, two ahead of Pavelski, and in assists with 16, one ahead of teammate Joe Thornton. Brent Burns had an assist, giving him 20 points, most among defensemen and tied for third overall.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm6: Ward beats Elliott off Couture's dish

What we learned: The Sharks have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Their offensive stars are at the tops of their games at even strength and on the power play, from Pavelski to Thornton to Couture to Burns to Patrick Marleau. They have more depth with the additions of Ward, Donskoi and defenseman Paul Martin and better goaltending with the addition of Martin Jones. They beat the Blues at their own game, forechecking, grinding in the offensive zone, taking away time and space all over the ice.

What this means for the Sharks: Finally, after 24 seasons, 18 playoffs, four conference finals and many disappointments, the Sharks will play for the Stanley Cup. Since 2004, they have won 13 playoff series. Only the Chicago Blackhawks (16) have won more in that period, though the Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to win their 14th in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Sharks can rest and watch while the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning battle for another game.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm6: Donskoi extends lead on Couture's feed

What this means for the Blues: They failed to make their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970, and it will be little consolation that they tied the franchise record for playoff wins with 10. (They needed to win eight games to make the Cup Final in 1968, 1969 and 1970, and they were swept each time. They won 10 playoff games in 1986, when they needed to win three games to advance in the first round, won a seven-game series and lost a seven-game series.) Among the issues this offseason: Blues coach Ken Hitchcock does not have a contract for next season, and captain David Backes can become a free agent.

Key moment: Jones made a sharp left pad save on Blues forward Jori Lehtera about midway through the second period. The Sharks had a 2-0 lead at that point. But the Blues had just killed a four-minute high-sticking to forward Scottie Upshall and were starting to gain some momentum. Had Lehtera scored, they might have had a chance to get back into it.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm6: Jones stones Lehtera with his left pad

Unsung player of the game: Defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic assisted on the final goal. He and partner Justin Braun helped shut down Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko in the series. Tarasenko had two goals in Game 6, but they came in the third period after the score was already 4-0 and Vlasic and Braun weren't on the ice for one of them and the goalie was pulled for the other. Tarasenko hadn't had a point in the series before that, after producing 40 goals and 74 points in the regular season and seven goals and 13 points in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

What's next: Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Monday. If the Penguins win the East, it will be at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. If the Lightning win, it will be in San Jose.

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