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Marleau, Sharks can end long wait in Game 6

San Jose savors chance to make its first Stanley Cup Final with win against St. Louis

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SAN JOSE -- Let's be clear: The San Jose Sharks are not one win away. They are five wins away. Their goal is not to make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Their goal is to win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

This would be but a step.

But what a step it would be, wouldn't it, if the Sharks could eliminate the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports)?

Their fans have never experienced the Stanley Cup Final. Their core players have never experienced the Stanley Cup Final. Coach Peter DeBoer, fourth-line forward Dainius Zubrus and goaltender Martin Jones have experienced the Stanley Cup Final elsewhere, but that's it. And Jones was a backup. He didn't play.

"Opportunities, they don't come every year," forward Patrick Marleau said. "So you've got to try to make the most of them."

Video: Patrick Marleau spoke with the media

No one knows that better than Marleau. Not only has he spent his entire NHL career in San Jose, he has played in 18 of the Sharks' 24 seasons and in 16 of their 18 Stanley Cup Playoff appearances. He is their all-time leader in games played in both the regular season and the playoffs.

One thousand four hundred eleven regular-season games. One hundred sixty-four playoff games. Zero Stanley Cup Final games.

Marleau is the only player on the roster who was part of all three previous conference final appearances: 2004, when the Sharks lost in six games to the Calgary Flames; 2010, when they were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks; and 2011, when they lost in five games to the Vancouver Canucks.

"I mean, it'd be huge [to win the Stanley Cup]," Marleau said. "It's something I've always wanted to do here for the fans and for the Bay Area. They've been supporting us over the years, and they deserve it."

Four other players were part of the 2010 and 2011 conference final teams: forwards Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

That group of five carries the weight of the wait.

The Sharks have been one of the best teams in the NHL for more than a decade. Since 2003-04, they have made the playoffs 11 times and won 12 series. Only the Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs more often (12 times). Only the Blackhawks (16), Red Wings (13) and Pittsburgh Penguins (13) have won more series.

But in that same period of time, 15 teams -- half the League -- have made the Stanley Cup Final, six of them multiple times, while the Sharks have not. Eight teams have won the Cup, including both of the Sharks' California rivals: the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

"Why it didn't get done in the playoffs? I don't know," said DeBoer, who coached the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils, guiding the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, before he took over the Sharks this season. "I never looked that deeply into them because I was worried about the team I was coaching, and most of it was in the Eastern Conference.

"I can tell you that with the type of leadership, with the type of people we have here, it wouldn't have surprised me if this group had won two or three over the last 10 years. They've had great coaching. Who knows why? It's a hard trophy to win. You've got to have a lot of things go right."

So many things have gone wrong for the Sharks. The nadir came two years ago, when they blew a 3-0 series lead and lost in the first round to the Kings, who went on to win the Cup. Well, that was the nadir at least until last season, when they didn't even make the playoffs, snapping a 10-season streak.

The irony is that, after years of raising expectations and falling short, they have another chance when few gave them a chance.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Pavelski ties game, nets GWG in Gm5

"We're not there yet, but you can definitely see that they can see the finish line," DeBoer said. "It's at least in sight. A month ago it wasn't. Those guys have cranked all their games up, every one of those guys, to another level.

"It's such a hard trophy to win, it's such a hard league [in which] to advance even as far as we are right now. History's shown that. It's rare air you're breathing. I think these guys more than anybody recognize that, and they want to take advantage of that."

Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Couture and Vlasic know how precious this is. So do their teammates, for them and for themselves.

"I would want nothing more than to have those guys have that opportunity," said defenseman Paul Martin, who made the Eastern Conference Final with the Penguins in 2013, when they were swept by the Boston Bruins. "I think a lot of the younger guys feel exactly the same way, and I'm sure the people, the fans, are in the same boat. … If anyone deserves it, they do.

"The closer you come without succeeding, the harder it is. There's only one team that wins every year, and the longer you go without winning it, the more you realize the chances are smaller as far as the opportunity you'll get."

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