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Conference Final

Sharks face defining moment in Game 6 against Blues

Look to force deciding game in Western Final, keep pursuit of first Stanley Cup title alive

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

SAN JOSE -- This is a defining moment for the San Jose Sharks.

It's not just that they face elimination, down 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues in the best-of-7 Western Conference Final entering Game 6 in St. Louis on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).

It's that they've come so far again, and now they'll take another step toward that elusive Stanley Cup or fall tantalizingly close again.

 

[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Blues series coverage]

 

"We don't need hope; we've got hope," Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said with an exasperated laugh after their 5-0 loss in Game 5 at SAP Center on Sunday. "We like our team. You lose today. We go in there, we play a good game and we've got some experience in Game 7." 

Burns is right. Win Game 6, and the Sharks change the narrative. They would be returning home for Game 7 on Thursday, and they won Game 7 at home in each of the first two rounds. They'd have a chance to become the second team to win three seven-game series to make the Stanley Cup Final, joining the 2014 Los Angeles Kings.

But they will have to play Game 6 without two, and possibly three, of their top players: defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Tomas Hertl are out and forward Joe Pavelski is a game-time decision. 

And while the coaches and players are focused on the short term, San Jose has to change the narrative in the long term, too.

Doug Wilson was named general manager on May 13, 2003. Since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Sharks have won 681 games, 31 more than the next best team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and piled up 1,504 points, 55 more than the next best team, the Detroit Red Wings.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm5: DeBoer discusses 5-0 loss to Blues

In 15 seasons, they have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs 14 times (missing in 2014-15), most in the League. They have played 173 games and 30 rounds, tied with the Penguins for the most in the League in each category. They have won 90 playoff games, second to the Penguins, who have won 97. This is their fifth trip to the conference final, tied for the most in the NHL with the Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

But they've made the Cup Final once, in 2016, when they lost to the Penguins in six games.

Lots of teams wish they had the success the Sharks have had over the past decade and a half. A loss in Game 6 or 7 of this series would not affect that.

That said, there is a reason the Sharks acquired Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 13, even though he had one season left on his contract. Wilson thought this was a good team that needed another difference-maker.

There is a reason center Logan Couture has deflected questions about his personal statistics. He leads the playoffs in goals (14) and points (20). Since his debut in 2010, he ranks second in goals with 48 behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (50) and fourth in points with 101 behind Penguins center Sidney Crosby (123), Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane (109) and Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (106).

"Those guys have won, and I haven't," Couture said. "Those numbers don't mean anything unless we win the Stanley Cup."

The question about this team for years has been when it finally will get over the hump. Well, here is the hump again, and this time, there is added emotion and uncertainty.

Video: Reaction to Blues' huge Game 5 win against Sharks

Center Joe Thornton has played 1,566 regular-season and 178 playoff games. He has compiled 1,478 points (413 goals, 1,065 assists) in the regular season, 14th in history, and 133 points (31 goals, 102 assists) in the playoffs, 41st in history. But he turns 40 on July 2 and is on an expiring contract. Is this his last shot? Or at least his last best shot?

Pavelski and Karlsson are on expiring contracts, too. Who knows what happens this offseason?

The Sharks could continue to be good. But when are they going to go from good to great?

Can they do it now? Can they win a third seven-game series? Can they get back to the Final? Can they defeat the Boston Bruins? Can Thornton finally raise the Stanley Cup and do it against the team that selected him No. 1 in the 1997 NHL Draft, the team that traded him to San Jose in the midst of his Hart Trophy season in 2005-06?

They have to win Game 6.

"We've been in this situation before, and it's not done yet," Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi said. "It's one game at a time, and we focus on tomorrow's game in St. Louis, and we are looking forward to bringing it back here to Game 7."

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