For additional insight into the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Gary Agnew to break down the action. Agnew will be checking in throughout the series.
Agnew, 55, was an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also served as interim coach of the Blue Jackets for five games during the 2006-07 season, and has been coach of Syracuse of the American Hockey League and London and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League.
SAN JOSE -- It started at the top. It started with the leaders, with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, with the big names and big talents. Those were the San Jose Sharks players who, as Agnew saw it, were not going to let the Western Conference Final continue.
They were ready to end the series. They were ready to go to the Stanley Cup Final.
"Their determination," Agnew said. "I thought Thornton was so focused. They showed a clip on the TV where he was barking at somebody coming down the ice after they turned the puck over, and I just felt that he looked like he wasn't going to let anything bad happen.
"He was going to make sure - in my opinion, anyway, and I'm sure there's other guys in there - but when your team plays that way and everybody's on notice and everybody's on the same page and you've got four lines and six [defensemen] playing that way, it's pretty impressive."
Video: Thornton on reaching Cup Final, effort of team
And that came from the top down, as the Sharks defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in Game 6 at SAP Center on Wednesday.
"I thought that comes to the leadership group and it certainly comes to the determination and the desperation of the group," Agnew said. "Who knows, maybe they saw what happened in Tampa the night before and were like, 'We're not going back for Game 7. We've got a chance, let's make sure we take care of business.' "
On Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning entered Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final with a 3-2 series lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins. But with their season on the line, the Penguins defeated the Lightning to set up Game 7 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). San Jose did not suffer the same fate at the hands of the Blues.
But it wasn't just that the leaders led for the Sharks. It was that they also were San Jose's best players.
"One hundred percent," Agnew said. "Their top players were their top players. … [St. Louis] didn't seem to have an answer for the big line, with [Tomas] Hertl and Pavelski. Every time they were on the ice, they seemed to be a threat. That was hard on them."
Video: STL@SJS, Gm6: Pavelski jams in puck, opens scoring
The Sharks got timely saves from Martin Jones - though he did not have to perform many heroics - including a crucial one midway through the second period on Jori Lehtera with the left pad.
That was when the Blues made their first push. Their next one came too late in the third period with Vladamir Tarasenko's first two goals of the series.
The Blues didn't have enough to overcome the Sharks.
"They looked a little bit worn down," Agnew said. "But I think San Jose played pretty much a complete game. Other than that five-minute period in the second period where St. Louis threatened and the Tarasenko deal at the end, for the most part [San Jose] wanted nothing to do with going back for a Game 7.
"They knew they had a chance to end the series and I think San Jose played that way. They skated, they checked hard. They competed in those one-on-one battles. Like, the puck's up for grabs, the team that's the second man in there can get the puck and usually has the advantage, and I thought both offensively and defensively, San Jose was quicker to pucks with their second man."
He added, "I also thought that San Jose, especially early on, chipped pucks deep on the same side, so as they were attacking that defenseman on the one-on-one they weren't rimming it, they weren't cross-ice dumping it. Everything was on the same side, chip into the corner, and making the defenseman turn and go get it. I thought that played a part in sort of wearing some of [the Blues'] top defensemen down."
Video: STL@SJS, Gm6: Sharks players celebrate Campbell Bowl
For the Sharks, everything came together. By finishing the series in six games, San Jose got the benefit of extra rest - significant at this time of the season. And with the way the Sharks eliminated the Blues, the way they've been playing, San Jose will have a good chance to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, Agnew said.
"They look like an energized, focused, determined group that know how they need to play to win," Agnew said. "Their top players are playing their high-end game. Their goaltending is solid. They're in a really good spot. They're going to be a tough team to beat."