Sharks earn first Stanley Cup finals berth in team history

And so a quarter-century of silence is over. That’s a figure of speech, of course, because when it comes to the San Jose Sharks, home fans never have been silent, although in the team’s history, starting at the Cow Palace, then continuing on to the glass-bricked building now known as SAP Center, there may never have been a crowd as raucous as Wednesday night.

“Make Noise,” advised the big message board hanging from the rafters, and never has such advice gone to waste. If the 17,562 fans made any more noise, well, the jets that swoop in for landings at nearby San Jose International would have been drowned out.

Finally, the Sharks have made the big step — or is that the big skate? — the last Bay Area team to reach the championship round. True, they haven’t yet won the Stanley Cup, the way the 49ers, Raiders, Giants, A’s and Warriors have won Super Bowls, World Series and NBA crowns. But always before the Sharks hadn’t even played for one. Now they will.

Now after 49 years, beginning with the expansion California Golden Seals, who came in 1957, and then continuing with the expansion Sharks, the NHL — National Hockey League — gets recognized by more than the diehards. Now the Sharks go from cult figures to headliners.

They beat the St. Louis Blues, dominated the Blues, 5-2, ending the worries, the fears and the Western Conference finals. San Jose took the best-of-seven series, four games to two.

“We wanted to end it tonight,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the defenseman. “We didn’t want to have another game.”

He meant not until the finals, against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Pittsburgh Penguins. And they won’t. That curse — two years ago the Sharks won the first three games in the opening round and then were beaten four straight — has been exorcised. Ironic isn’t it that when the Sharks escape their bonds, the Warriors appear destined not to escape theirs.

It seemed perfect that Joe Pavelski, one of the Sharks old guard, who along with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton has been blamed for earlier failings, scored a quick opening goal with 3:57 gone in the first period. This wouldn’t be the old days and old pain.

Right away the fans started yelling, “We want the Cup, we want the Cup.” And now perhaps they will have it and the Sharks will have the glory and respect awarded teams like the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.

It’s always been the contention here that hockey has a tough fight in California, where you can’t flood the streets to create a skating surface in winter — with water rationing we can barely shower — and kids are more likely to pick up a surf board or tennis racquet than a hockey stick. If only the Sharks could advance to the Stanley Cup finals … well, they’ve advanced.

The players, new and veteran, appeared satisfied but not overly elated. No shouts in the locker room. No tears of joy. “I’m happy,” said Logan Couture. “I’m really happy for the fans who have gone through a lot. For a long time we had been the favorite. I have to credit our fans.”

Joe Ward scored the second and third goals for San Jose. He spoke of the organization not himself. “This is a very structured unit,” he said of the Sharks. “Our big guys have been huge.”

So is the trophy called the Stanley Cup.

Art Spander

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