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Sharks focus on Game 7, not past

San Jose hopes disappointment is over, faces Nashville for spot in conference final

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks know outsiders will be judging them leading up to Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the Nashville Predators at SAP Center on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

The narrative will be about past failures, including their most recent Game 7, a fourth straight loss to the Los Angeles Kings that sent San Jose out of the playoffs in the first round in 2014.

Veteran forward Joe Thornton, often a central figure in those stories, doesn't care about the past. At 36, Thornton, knows the opportunities to play in these games are dwindling.

And so may the chances for this group of veteran Sharks to win.

San Jose has never made it to the Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks reached the Western Conference Final in 2010 and 2011, but lost to Chicago and Vancouver, respectively.

They have since lost in the first round to the St. Louis Blues in 2012 and then had back-to-back Game 7 losses to the Kings, the first coming in the second round in 2013. 

Captain Joe Pavelski, forwards Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic are the only other players left from the 2010 failure. 

Thornton knows anything can happen Thursday and that he can only control his performance. He's going to wait until Game 7 is over to think about history.

"It's the best feeling you can possibly have as an athlete," Thornton said Wednesday, when asked about playing in a Game 7. "The fans are incredible and they're jacked up. Playing at home [in Game 7] is one of the best feelings you can have as an athlete. Everything you work for comes down to one game. It's a great feeling."

It is the only way Thornton can approach the game. The outside noise should remain just that.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm5: Pavelski one-times Thornton's nice feed

Veteran defenseman Paul Martin was a key addition to the Sharks this season. Before his arrival, he heard the stories about the Sharks not being able to thrive in the big moment. Eight months later, Martin believes that is false.

"I think it hangs [around] more so because of the media, the fans or the people telling the story. 'They can't get over the hump,' that's always going to be there," Martin said. "Everyone's always going to point that out. From my experience being here in the locker room with the guys the whole year, it's a good group.  

"I've been really impressed with [Thornton]. You always hear things on the outside about what kind of guy they are, if they want to win. He works just as hard, if not harder than anyone else. He prepares and he wants to win and he plays hard. Patty Marleau, too."

Martin argues that San Jose's success fuels the criticism and that the Sharks could not be in position to fail in the playoffs unless they were a good team.   

Martin has been in the League since 2003. He has been on good teams in New Jersey and Pittsburgh. He played five years with Sidney Crosby, arguably the game's best player, and never won a Stanley Cup. During that time, the Penguins reached the Eastern Conference Final once.

"There's so much that goes into [winning the Cup], he said. "You need help, you need depth, you need great goaltending, you need some luck. It's hard to win the Cup; it's the hardest trophy to win in sports."

The San Jose veterans know how hard it is. Lack of depth, major injuries, mediocre goaltending and bad luck have all been factors for San Jose since Thornton arrived in a trade from Boston during the 2005-06 season. 

On the eve of the next big game of his illustrious career, Thornton believes this is the Game 7, and the season, that will be different.

He has plenty of company in that regard.

"We have a lot of belief in this group, so to keep on playing that means a lot," Pavelski said. "You want to keep playing as far as we can and we have an opportunity to do that with a win here. 

"Past experiences or not, it's about what's in this room right now and about us. We kind of said that early. This is a different team. We went into that L.A. series [in the first round] and this is a team that has a few different things to it. We have belief in each other so we can go out and lay it on the line now and prove that to each other."

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