The San Jose Sharks took the first step toward shedding their label of postseason underachievers.
Joe Pavelski scored two goals, including the tiebreaking tally midway through the third period, to lift the Sharks to a series-clinching, 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night in Game 6.
Pavelski and Dan Boyle scored 1:29 apart in the final period, propelling top-seeded San Jose into the next round. The Sharks will have to wait to find out whom they will face in the Western Conference semifinals.
Devin Setoguchi and Douglas Murray added empty-net goals in the final minute after the Avalanche pulled goalie Craig Anderson for an extra skater.
Marek Svatos and Brandon Yip had goals for eighth-seeded Colorado.
The Sharks have been known for early playoff exits, failing to move past the second round in their four previous postseason trips. They had the best mark in the NHL last season, but fell to Anaheim in a first-round flameout.
When the Sharks fell behind 2-1 in the series, following a fluke overtime goal that defenseman Boyle put into his own net off a deflection, the spotlight and scrutiny intensified. But the Sharks turned around their fortunes, capturing the final three games.
“We realized that nothing comes easy after last year,” Pavelski said.
Pavelski gave San Jose the lead 47 seconds into the game, but Svatos tied it in the second period.
Yip then provided Colorado with a brief advantage, energizing the building in the process.
It didn’t last long as Boyle made it 2-2 with a slap shot over Anderson’s glove. Pavelski was credited with an assist.
Moments later, Pavelski scored the winner.
Now that the series is over, San Jose doesn’t plan to linger in the moment. In fact, once the team boards the plane, it’s time to get ready for the next round.
“There is a lot more work ahead of us,” Boyle said.
Evgeni Nabokov was steady in net all night, but not very busy, as he stopped just 16 shots.
Anderson finished with 29 saves. He has faced the most shots of any goalie in the postseason and made the most saves. He also led in both categories during the regular season.
Being so young, the upstart Avalanche weren’t expected to be a playoff contender this season. But they worked their way in with a couple of key wins and then gave the Sharks quite a tussle.
For that, rookie coach Joe Sacco couldn’t be more satisfied. The Avalanche had 12 players make their postseason debut against the Sharks.
“We’re certainly headed in the right direction,” Sacco said. “But it’s tough right now because we’re disappointed.”
In an effort to ignite the offense, the Avalanche juggled their lines. Matt Hendricks and Chris Stewart moved up to join Matt Duchene. Later in the game, Svatos replaced Hendricks and scored his first goal of the series.
The Avalanche struggled to find the net all series. They scored five goals in an overtime loss in Game 2, but had just six in the other five contests.
Part of the difficulty had to do with a rash of recent injuries. The Avalanche were without Peter Mueller the entire series because of a head injury sustained when he took a hit along the boards against the Sharks on April 4.
Mueller skated Saturday morning, but wasn’t ready to play.
Colorado also was without Milan Hejduk, who was the team’s third-leading goal scorer in the regular season. He was sidelined for the final three games with an upper body injury.
“I have to admit (injuries) definitely took a toll on us,” Sacco said. “But (The series) was what we expected. It was hard fought.”
Even though the Sharks had the safety net of a Game 7 at home, they desperately wanted to end the series in the Mile High City.
“To show some killer instinct and put a team away while we had a chance,” said forward Ryane Clowe, who earned his sixth and seventh assists of the series by setting Pavelski’s goals.
NOTES: F Jed Ortmeyer and D Niclas Wallin were scratched for San Jose. … The Avalanche are 10-10 when facing elimination since moving to Colorado. … The Sharks have a 3-13 record in Game 6.
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