The San Jose Sharks advanced to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016 with a seven-game win against the Colorado Avalanche in the second round.
San Jose won the best-of-7 series with a 3-2 victory in Game 7 at SAP Center on Wednesday and will have home-ice advantage against the St. Louis Blues in the conference final. Game 1 is at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m., ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS).
[RELATED: Full Sharks vs. Avalanche series coverage]
Here are 5 reasons the Sharks advanced:
1. Return of Pavelski
San Jose was without Joe Pavelski, its captain and leading goal scorer during the regular season (38) for all but Game 7 of the series after he sustained a concussion and cut to his head during a 5-4 overtime win in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.
Pavelski made a big impact with a goal and an assist in his return. His teammates said they wanted to keep winning long enough for Pavelski to return and they did just that by advancing to the conference final.
Video: COL@SJS, Gm7: Pavelski returns, sparks Sharks to win
"It's huge," defenseman Erik Karlsson said. "You know he's a big part of our team. He's been around this entire series even though he hasn't played and he's been ready, trying to get back into his routine, and he was good to go today so it's nice to see him. We're going to need him and he's going to get better and better moving forward."
2. Defensemen scoring
Karlsson (three assists), Brent Burns (four goals, six assists) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (two goals, one assist) combined for 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in the series.
The three (mostly Burns and Vlasic) also played heavy minutes against the Avalanche top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, limiting them to a combined three points (two goals, one assist) in the final three games of the series.
"If you give a guy like [MacKinnon] time and space he gets going, he creates," Vlasic said after Game 5. "So if somebody's in his face pretty quickly he can't do what he wants. ... The more time you spend in their end, the less time he has the puck, so I think that was a big difference."
3. Jones at his best again
Goalie Martin Jones' strong play in the final three games of the first round carried into the second round. Jones was 4-3 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in the series. He is 7-3 with a 2.13 GAA and .928 save percentage since Game 4 against Vegas.
Video: COL@SJS, Gm7: Jones shuts the door on MacKinnon
Coach Peter DeBoer stuck with Jones, and he and the Sharks never wavered in their faith in him.
"Thank God we have [Jones] because he was awesome all series," forward Tomas Hertl said. "He is a huge part of it now that we are in the conference finals just because of him."
4. Defending home ice
For the second straight series, the Sharks won three of the four games at SAP Center, including Game 7.
San Jose is 23-3-0 against Colorado at home (including playoffs) since Jan. 1, 2009.
"It's a cliché, I know, but you play all year, you put that work in during the season, in order to have home ice during the playoffs and for these types of situations," DeBoer said. "I think if this games on the road tonight it may be a different result."
5. Penalty kill
The Sharks were 21-for-23 (91.3 percent) on the penalty kill in the series, including killing 19 of the final 20 chances against the Avalanche, who were 5-for-25 (20.0 percent) with the man-advantage in the first round against the Calgary Flames.
"It was huge," forward Barclay Goodrow said. "We've said from the start, we pride ourselves on the penalty kill, we want to make sure it's helping us win games. I thought it was solid again tonight and we got the job done when we had to."
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