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Instant analysis: Predators at Sharks, Game 7

San Jose dominates first period, cruises past Nashville into Western Conference Final

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks defeated the Nashville Predators 5-0 in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round at SAP Center on Thursday to advance to the conference final against the St. Louis Blues.

Right wing Joe Pavelski scored a power-play goal at 9:02 of the first period, and left wing Joel Ward scored on a breakaway at 16:51 of the period to get the Sharks off to a fast start.

Logan Couture scored 36 seconds into the second period, off a turnover by Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, to give San Jose more breathing room. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau scored third-period goals.

What we learned: Home is where the wins are. The Sharks, who struggled at SAP Center throughout the regular season, won each of the four home games in this series to advance. Not only did they win at home, they dominated for the most part. In the four victories, San Jose outscored Nashville 18-5. In the three games at Bridgestone Arena, two went into overtime and the goal margin was 12-7 in favor of the Predators.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Pavelski beats Rinne on the power play

What this means for the Predators: Disappointment. Nashville has never played this deep into the calendar in its history, but it still could not reach the conference final for the first time in its history. The Predators were undone by their performance in the first period, when they allowed two goals and were outshot 17-3. They never recovered.

What this means for the Sharks: The redemption tour continues. Throughout the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Sharks have insisted that the disappointing past is in the past. This is a different team capable of different results. They proved it again Thursday, winning a Game 7 after back-to-back losses in their previous two Game 7 outings, both against the Kings. In the first round, they beat those same Kings, the team that had been a perennial thorn in the side of the organization.

Key moment: First goals are huge in Game 7. The team scoring the opening goal in Game 7 is 123-42 in NHL postseason history. In this case, the goal came, as has often been the case in this series, on the power play. Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson, the hero of Game 6, cleared the puck over the glass while under duress in his own zone for a delay of game penalty. Pavelski capped a mesmerizing passing sequence by finishing a low-to-high pass from Marleau and shooting into the upper far-side corner for the all-important lead.

Unsung player of the game: San Jose forward Tommy Wingels. A healthy scratch the previous two games, Wingels re-entered the lineup with Matt Nieto injured and unable to play. Wingels did all the things coach Peter DeBoer wanted to see out of him; he played more than 10 minutes and was physical, heavy on the forecheck and responsible defensively.

What's next: The Sharks and Blues will open the conference final at Scottrade Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). San Jose advanced past the second round for the first time since back-to-back losses in the conference final in 2010 and 2011. The Sharks are seeking their first berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

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