DENVER – The San Jose Sharks organization has been saddled with the reputation of post-season underachievers. This current crop of players, however, doesn’t feel that label applies to them.
It’s not their burden to bear. That’s why they weren’t bothered by negative talk of the past.
Still, the Sharks took the first step toward silencing the detractors. Joe Pavelski scored two goals to lift San Jose to a series-clinching 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night in Game 6.
“We talked about it all year that this was a new team,” Sharks captain Rob Blake said. “The organization might have lost in the past, but this team hasn’t. That was put behind us early and we moved on.”
The top-seeded Sharks are moving on again, to the Western Conference semifinals where they’ll face an undetermined opponent.
This is a franchise known for early playoff exits. The Sharks have failed to move past the second round in their four previous post-season trips. San Jose had the best mark in the NHL last season, but fell to Anaheim in a first-round flameout.
The post-season woes were all the Sharks heard about leading up to the series with Colorado.
They didn’t buy or believe it.
“The media likes to talk about past playoff failures. This locker-room doesn’t talk about that,” defenceman Dan Boyle said. “We focused on this series and we’ll focus on the next one when we start preparing for that one. This was a good series for us.”
When the Sharks fell behind 2-1 in the series, following a fluke overtime goal that Boyle put into his own net off a deflection, the spotlight and scrutiny only 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 in, but Marek Svatos tied it in the second period.
Brandon Yip then provided Colorado with a brief advantage, energizing the Pepsi Center.
It didn’t last long as Boyle made it 2-2 with a slap shot over Anderson’s glove.
Moments later, Pavelski scored the winner. Devin Setoguchi and Douglas Murray added empty-net goals in the final minute after the Avalanche pulled goalie Craig Anderson for an extra skater.
With the series over, San Jose doesn’t plan to linger in the moment.
“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 post-season and made the most saves. He also led in both categories during the regular season.
“They made some good plays and they got everything because they earned it. We didn’t give them any freebies,” Anderson said.
Being so young, the upstart Avalanche weren’t expected to be a playoff contender this season. They worked their way in with a couple of key wins down the stretch and then gave the Sharks quite a tussle.
For that, rookie coach Joe Sacco couldn’t be more pleased. The Avalanche had 12 players make their post-season debut against the savvy 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 offence, the Avalanche juggled their lines. Matt Hendricks and Chris Stewart moved up to join rookie 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.
“Toughest thing in the world to watch your teammates go out there and give everything they’ve got,” Mueller said. “I wish I could have been a part of it.”
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 by 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.”
For San Jose, this may have been just what the team needed to banish some of those post-season demons.
“We showed some heart and we worked and we came back,” Boyle said. “Hopefully, we can grow from this.”
NOTES: The Avalanche are 10-10 when facing elimination since the franchise moved to Colorado. … The Sharks have a 3-13 record in Game 6. … Sharks F Ryane Clowe had seven assists in the series.