The San Jose Sharks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time with a 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Wednesday.
"We know it's just another step, but it being the first time, it's been a long time, but we're enjoying the ride here," Sharks forward Patrick Marleau told NBCSN. "We've got one more step to go."
The Sharks, who defeated the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the first round and the Nashville Predators in seven games in the second round, will play the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning in the Cup Final. The best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final is tied 3-3 with Game 7 at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"We'll play 'em both; if they want to dress 40 guys, I'll play 'em both," Sharks forward Joe Thornton jokingly told NBCSN when asked if he had a preferred opponent.
Video: STL@SJS, Gm6: Sharks advance with win, shake hands
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will be Monday. San Jose finished the regular season with 98 points and would begin the Final on the road if it plays Pittsburgh (104 points) or at home if it plays Tampa Bay (97 points).
San Jose, which began play in 1991-92, is the first team to make its first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since the Ottawa Senators in 2007 (lost to the Anaheim Ducks in five games).
Sharks forward Logan Couture (eight goals) leads the playoffs with 24 points, and forward Joe Pavelski leads the playoffs with 13 goals. Thornton has three goals and 18 points, and defenseman Brent Burns has six goals and 20 points. Goalie Martin Jones has started all 18 Stanley Cup Playoff games (12-6-0, 2.12 goals-against average, .919 save percentage, three shutouts).
The Sharks split the season series with the Lightning. They lost to Tampa Bay 4-3 on Dec. 5 at SAP Center and won 4-2 on Feb. 16 at Amalie Arena. San Jose forward Joel Ward had two goals and an assist; Thornton and forward Tomas Hertl each had two assists; and Burns, Pavelski and forward Matt Nieto each had a goal and an assist. Jones made 28 saves in the 4-2 win.
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov scored two goals, and forward J.T. Brown led Tampa Bay with three assists. Goalie Ben Bishop was 1-1-0, making 51 saves on 57 shots.
San Jose split the season series with Pittsburgh. It defeated the Penguins 3-1 at Consol Energy Center on Nov 21. Burns scored two goals, defenseman Paul Martin had a goal and an assist, and Marleau had two assists. Jones made 38 saves. The Sharks lost to the Penguins 5-1 on Dec. 1 at SAP Center with Marleau scoring.
Penguins forward Phil Kessel scored in the 3-1 loss. Kessel had two goals, Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves in the 5-1 win.
The Penguins last advanced to the Cup Final in 2009, when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to win the Stanley Cup for the third time (Pittsburgh won the Cup in back-to-back seasons in 1991-92.) The Penguins are 3-1 in the Final, losing in six games to the Red Wings in 2008.
The Lightning lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Final last season. Tampa Bay defeated the Calgary Flames in seven games in 2004 to win the Stanley Cup.