SAN JOSE — Patrick Marleau has played more than 1,500 games with the San Jose Sharks since joining the NHL as an 18-year-old draft pick but never one quite like the next one.
All those past playoff disappointments that have seemed to define the career of players like Marleau and Joe Thornton could be put to the side temporarily with one more San Jose win.
For the first time in 25 seasons as an NHL franchise, the Sharks are just one win away from making the Stanley Cup final. San Jose takes a 3-2 lead over St. Louis in the Western Conference final into Game 6 on Wednesday night in what should be a frenzied Shark Tank.
“It’s nice,” Marleau said Tuesday. “It’s not our final goal but it’s as far as we’ve been so it’s good that way. There’s still a lot to go.”
For more than a decade, the Sharks have been known as much for their postseason failures as their regular-season success. San Jose has the second-most wins and has played in the second-most playoff series since the start of the 2003-04 season but has fallen short every spring.
The Sharks won just three total games in their first three trips to the conference final, lost an opening series as the top seed in 2009 and most memorably became the fourth NHL team ever to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games against Los Angeles in 2014.
The Sharks then hit what they called rock bottom last year when they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003 but rebounded this season under first-year coach Peter DeBoer and a core anchored by players like Thornton, Marleau, captain Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic that have spent years trying to bring a title to San Jose.
“It would be huge,” Marleau said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do here for the fans and the Bay Area. They have been supporting us over the years and they deserve it.”
After winning Game 5 in St. Louis 6-3 on Monday night, they returned home to the excitement of a possible clincher. While the Blues are making another goalie switch, putting Brian Elliott back in net after going with Jake Allen the past two games, and figuring out how to get top goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko back on his game after being shut down for five games, the focus for the Sharks is simpler.
They just want to stick to their game and not let thoughts of the prize ahead distract them.
“You just try to stay in the moment and not think too much about it,” Marleau said. “Just control what you can control. That’s the biggest thing and knowing that you’re in it with 20 other guys trying to do the same thing. That gives you a little extra boost.”
The Blues hope the move back to Elliott gives them a boost. Elliott started the first 17 games of the playoffs before coach Ken Hitchcock went to Allen in Game 4 in San Jose.
St. Louis won that game 6-3 to tie the series at two games apiece but Allen gave up four goals on 25 shots Monday night. That led to Hitchcock changing again to Elliott, who stopped 62 of 65 shots in St. Louis’ Game 7 wins over Chicago and Dallas earlier in the playoffs.
“We needed a jolt to get back in the series and we got it,” Hitchcock said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get the win yesterday, but this has been Brian’s playoffs and we’d like him to finish the job.”
More importantly, the Blues would like to get Tarasenko going. He scored 40 goals in the regular season and had 13 points in 14 games the first two rounds but has been completely shut down by Vlasic and San Jose’s defense in the conference final.
Tarasenko has a -4 rating for the series and has managed only four shots on goal the past three games.
“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs,” Hitchcock said. “We need him just to act like a worker. I know that’s a funny thing to say, but he’s looking for the home run.”