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Sharks Advance to First Stanley Cup Final

by Eric Gilmore / San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks will play in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time after a 5-2 win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at SAP Center on Wednesday.

The Sharks, who started play in 1991-92, won the best-of-7 series 4-2 and will face the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, which will be decided in Game 7 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It's great," Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said. "You dream of getting the chance to play for this. It's a great feeling. We know we've got one more step to take to really let loose. It's incredible."

Joel Ward scored two goals, and Martin Jones made 23 saves for the Sharks. Captain Joe Pavelski, rookie Joonas Donskoi and Logan Couture scored.

Jones is the only Sharks player who has won the Cup; he did that as the backup goalie for the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. Dainius Zubrus is the only other Sharks player who has played in the Stanley Cup Final; he lost in 1997 with the Philadelphia Flyers (to the Detroit Red Wings) and in 2012 with the New Jersey Devils (to the Kings).

The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday.

"Just trying to seize the moment," said forward Patrick Marleau, who has played 1,411 regular-season games for San Jose.

Marleau and Joe Thornton (1,347) have combined to play 2,478 NHL regular-season games, the most by two teammates each making the Cup Final for the first time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It's a great night for those guys," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "I also told the group that I've been this far once before (as coach of the Devils in 2012). As great a night as this is, if you don't win the next round, it's still not a great summer. I think we'll enjoy this tonight and our focus will turn to the big prize on Friday."

Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first two goals of the series, each in the third period, and Brian Elliott made 22 saves for the Blues, who lost in their third elimination game of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the first round and the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the second.

"Man, the stop is pretty sudden and the flood of emotions, of, obviously disappointment, but also a level of pride and how proud we are of the group in there," St. Louis captain David Backes said. "There's a few guys held together by tape and a few guys that have sacrificed a ton in there to get to this point.

"There's a group of guys in there that bound together and defeated two really good teams and played a third really good team and didn't find a way in this one. ... You sit here and you say what could be with two more wins and a Stanley Cup Final and a group that I think did a heck of a job. [Darn], two more wins and you're playing for that ultimate prize."

Pavelski gave San Jose a 1-0 lead at 3:57 of the first period with his playoff-leading 13th goal. Thornton shot high and wide left on a breakaway, but Pavelski got the puck behind the net and jammed it inside the right post on a wraparound past Elliott, who was looking the other way.

Elliott returned to the net after backing up Jake Allen in Games 4 and 5 and made his 18th start of the playoffs.

The Sharks made it 2-0 at 5:02 of the second when Ward deflected Burns' shot from the point past Elliott. Chris Tierney controlled the puck along the boards below the goal line and sent a long pass to Burns near the left boards. Burns sent the puck toward the crease, and Ward scored his fifth goal.

The Blues killed a double-minor penalty with Scottie Upshall in the box for high-sticking Tommy Wingels. St. Louis center Jori Lehtera almost scored, but Jones made a left-pad save of his shot from the low right circle with a little more than nine minutes left.

Jones, who gave up seven goals on 40 shots in the previous two games, made another left-pad save of Colton Parayko's shot from the right circle with 5:30 to go.

"It was probably only two or three saves I had to make tonight, and the rest we did a great job in front of the net," Jones said. "I was able to get a good read on it and it just kind of hit me. ... It's been a real group effort. I think that's what's most special about moving forward here."

Ward made it 3-0 at 3:01 of the third period. Couture sent him a pass in front of the crease from the right circle, and Ward put the puck inside the right post for his second two-goal game in a row.

"I thought the third goal allowed them to play with five back," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Then we had to take some risks. But for me, the third goal was the killer."

Donskoi scored at 8:11 of the third, taking a pass from Couture and scoring from the slot on an odd-man rush.

Tarasenko took a pass in the left circle from Lehtera and beat Jones with a shot to the upper left corner at 11:39. It was his eighth goal of the playoffs but first since Game 7 against Dallas.

He scored again with 3:35 left after the Blues pulled Elliott for an extra attacker. Tarasenko beat Jones with a sharp-angle shot inside the left post.

Couture scored into an empty net with 19.7 seconds left.

"We didn't want to go to Game 7," DeBoer said. "I think we recognized how dangerous a team they are. I think history has proven that you want to finish these series as quickly as possible, get as much rest as possible. I think mission accomplished."

With one mission left.

"It's not the end goal," Thornton said. "I'll tell you that."

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