SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks saved their best game for last in the Western Conference Second Round against the Nashville Predators.
The Sharks defeated the Predators 5-0 in Game 7 at SAP Center on Thursday to advance to the Western Conference Final for the fourth time, and first time since 2011.
The Sharks can reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time with a victory against the St. Louis Blues in the conference final, which begins Sunday at Scottrade Center (5 p.m. PT; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Here are 5 reasons the Sharks advanced:
The Sharks second-line center got hot against the Predators. Couture had six goals and five assists in seven games, setting a San Jose record for most points in a series, breaking Igor Larionov's record of 10 points, set in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings in 1994. Couture leads the NHL with 17 points in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
He continues to get stronger after two injuries early in the season cost him 30 games. He had surgery in October to repair a broken right ankle, and in December had surgery for internal bleeding caused by a thigh injury.
"It's great for him," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "It's great to see a little success like that for him. He was a big part of this series and been a big part of this team. It's tremendous to see. You need that, and you need those runs for stretches in the playoffs."
2. ENERGY EDGE
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, as he had throughout the season, relied heavily on four lines and six defensemen against the Predators. He spread the workload throughout the lineup and made sure his top players didn't get worn down. The Predators top players, especially defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi, logged heavier minutes.
The Sharks also came into the series after a week off after defeating the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the first round. The Predators needed seven games to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, and then had one day to rest and prepare for Game 1 against San Jose.
The Sharks took full advantage of a tired opponent in Game 1 when they scored five times in the third period of a 5-2 victory. Then in Game 5, two days after losing 4-3 in triple overtime, the Sharks had more jump from start to finish in a 5-1 win.
In Game 7, the Sharks appeared to have much more energy and jump than the Predators.
"I think we got them a little bit fatigued here tonight, which I think helped," DeBoer said.
3. HOME WAS SWEET AGAIN
The Sharks had one of the worst home records in the League this season (18-20-3), but were 4-0 in this series against the Predators at SAP Center and outscored them 18-5.
A sold-out home rink had a familiar high-decibel sound during San Jose's 5-1 victory in Game 5 and 5-0 win in Game 7.
"It was awesome," Pavelski said after Game 5. "It was great. It's what we know, what we expect. Let's put it that way. It was definitely a fun place."
4. DEBOER'S JUGGLING ACT
DeBoer used the same four lines for the first four games of the series. But in Game 5 he changed his bottom three lines. One move in particular paid big dividends. Patrick Marleau was shifted from third-line center to second-line left wing, and the line of Marleau, Couture and Joonas Donskoi combined for two goals and three assists in a 5-1 victory in Game 5. Couture had a goal and two assists and Marleau had a goal and an assist in Game 7.
"The [first] two games in Nashville we didn't get a lot of 5-on-5 scoring," DeBoer said. "We created some chances but we weren't sticking them in the net. Patty's a scorer. He's one of the guys there that can finish. It allowed him to get with some guys that can get him the puck a little bit, get him more in his natural position."
After outplaying Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the first round, Jones outplayed the Predators Pekka Rinne in the second. Jones never had started a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs until this year, but you couldn't tell that by his calm demeanor.
Jones stopped 66 of 70 shots in the first two games as the Sharks took a 2-0 series lead. He had a hiccup in Game 3, giving up four goals on 25 shots -- three of them on rebounds -- in a 4-1 loss. Two nights after the triple-overtime loss in Game 4, he made 24 saves in a 5-1 victory in Game 5. And after losing Game 6 in overtime, he made 20 saves in Game 7 for his first Stanley Cup Playoff shutout.
Jones is 8-4 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 12 playoff games.
"He's been good all playoffs," Couture said. "We just expect that from him now."