SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two years after their most devastating playoff loss, the Sharks held their most meaningful celebration.
The franchise notorious for falling short each postseason finally has a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward had goals and the Sharks advanced to the first Stanley Cup final in their 25-year history by beating the Blues 5-2 in Game 6 of the Western Conference final late Wednesday.
Few outside San Jose thought this day would come so soon after the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead in a soul-crushing playoff defeat to the Kings in 2014 and then missed the playoffs last season.
"(The Kings loss) was as low as you can get as a professional athlete, individually and team wise," said center Logan Couture, who had a goal and two assists Wednesday. "Then last year, obviously tough time missing the playoffs and going through some stuff as a team. I really think everything we've gone through has made us a lot stronger as a group."
The Sharks had won just three games in three previous trips to the conference final, were knocked out of the playoffs twice in four seasons by a No. 8 seed and then had the collapse against Los Angeles. But led by first-year coach Peter DeBoer, a familiar core and added depth, the Sharks are four wins from a championship.
The Blues' postseason woes continue as the franchise still seeks its first Cup title and first trip to the final since 1970. "It stings right now," captain David Backes said.
Around the league: Senators defenseman Chris Phillips is closing out his professional career with the only team he has known. Drafted first overall by the Senators in 1996, Phillips, 38, announced his retirement Thursday. He had 71 goals and 217 assists in 1,179 career regular-season games but missed this season because of back issues.