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Sharks answer every question with Game 7 win

Decisive victory against Nashville puts San Jose into Western Final against St. Louis

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director, Editorial

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks have talked a mean game all spring about their new identity. On Thursday, they played a mean game to prove it.

The Sharks were relentless and gave no quarter in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round series, rampaging past the Nashville Predators at SAP Center. The 5-0 victory put the Sharks to the conference final for the first time since 2011.

The Sharks play the St. Louis Blues in the next round; Game 1 is Sunday at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The winner of that series goes to the Stanley Cup Final against the Eastern Conference champion. San Jose has never been to a Cup Final in its 25-year history.

It is on the radar now.

"Yeah, we want to win a Cup," said Patrick Marleau, a member of the Sharks since he was taken in the first round (No. 2) of the 1997 NHL Draft. "We haven't done that yet.

"There's a lot of work left."

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Thornton buries rebound for PPG

The Sharks wouldn't be in position to start that work if they hadn't taken care of business Thursday.

There were questions about whether they would be able to do that.

The Sharks had lost their past two Game 7s, each to the Los Angeles Kings. They had also failed in their previous two trips to the conference final, a four-game sweep by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and a five-game loss to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.

The Sharks, as an organization, have had their fair share of postseason disappointment. So when they surrendered two leads in Game 6 and lost in overtime, questions about the character of this team were asked yet again.

They were answered emphatically in Game 7.

Video: Sharks advance with 5-0 win against Preds in Game 7

The Sharks took 17 of the 20 shots on goal in the first period and scored twice. They scored again 39 seconds into the second period to make it 3-0 and never looked back.

They blocked 22 shots and were credited with 31 hits. Late in the third period, defenseman Roman Polak threw himself in front of a shot despite San Jose's comfortable five-goal lead.

"We were prepared," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think it started this morning; led by our leadership and the veterans in our room. Everybody just followed. It was probably our best 20-man, team performance of the playoffs."

DeBoer is new to the Sharks; he joined them last summer. DeBoer has distanced himself, and his team, from the painful past. He insists these Sharks are a new proposition, a more dangerous entity.

He did so again when he was asked if the Game 7 victory cleaved the past from the Sharks' consciousness.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Couture snaps it past Rinne

"This isn't the same team that it's been in the past," he said. "We've got a whole bunch of new bodies, a whole different cast of characters, a whole different identity, in my mind, a whole different coaching staff. The core guys are still the same, but the core guys here are great. … They're not the problem. It was filling in behind them. We've got those type of people here now, and I think the guys at the top feel that and are feeding off it."

The core group delivered in Game 7, providing more evidence that this is a new team, a new era in the Bay area.

"That's what we're supposed to do; we're supposed to go out there and lead this team and contribute offensively," said forward Logan Couture, who had a goal and two assists. "We did what we're supposed to do, I guess."

Marleau, the longest-tenured of the Sharks, had a goal and an assist. Thornton, so often a lightning rod during turbulent times, had a goal and assist. Pavelski, the captain, scored the game's first goal and has nine in the playoffs; he's tied for the League lead with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Couture, a rookie in 2010, finished the seven games against Nashville with 11 points, a single-series franchise record.

That is the leadership core referenced by DeBoer. That core led the way in Game 7, but it had help from what is probably the deepest Sharks team in a decade.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Pavelski beats Rinne on the power play

These Sharks have already put to rest the knock that they can't beat the Kings, eliminating them in a clinically efficient five games in the first round.

They have countered the argument that they can't win a Game 7, doing so in convincing fashion against a club that eliminated the West's top team, the Anaheim Ducks, by winning a Game 7 on the road in the first round.

Now they know they face a new challenge against the Blues.

This is San Jose's third trip to the conference final; they failed to advance and won once in nine games in the first two tries. That has to chance to make the divorce from the past final.

"It's been a while since we've been to a conference final," Marleau said. "These opportunities don't come along every year, so we're happy about it. But we still want to continue to do well."

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