Rapid Reaction: San Jose Sharks 5, St. Louis Blues 2

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks finally did it. After years of playoff frustration and heartbreak, they advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

How it happened: The Sharks came out absolutely flying, with a push like what you’d expect from a team on the verge of elimination, not one leading the series. They controlled play for most of the first period and dominated for large stretches.

Joe Pavelski opened the scoring 3:57 into the game by forcing a backhand past Brian Elliott. The goal was Pavelski’s 13th of the postseason, as his line continued to produce against the Blues unlike any line had until this round.

Play evened out in the second, with the Blues generating consistent zone time, but whenever they got a Grade A chance, Sharks goalie Martin Jones was there for the stop, including on an outstanding pad save on Jori Lehtera. Jones finished the game with 24 saves.

Sharks forward Joel Ward scored the game’s second goal by tipping a point shot from Brent Burns to beat Elliott, who made his first start since Game 3.

A dominant third by the Sharks and a goal from Joonas Donskoi put them up 4-0. But two subsequent goals by Vladimir Tarasenko made it tense before the Sharks ultimately prevailed and added an empty-net goal.

What it means: Playing in back-to-back series that reached seven games, the Blues seemed to run out of gas in this one. This sets up an offseason full of difficult decisions for Blues GM Doug Armstrong, with two key contributors to this playoff run, David Backes and Troy Brouwer, playing the final season of their contracts. This was a playoff breakthrough for the Blues, and the young core will benefit from the experience gained while beating the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars.

For the first time in their careers, longtime Sharks Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will be playing in a series for a Stanley Cup, as they continue to rewrite their legacies late in their careers.

The Sharks not only beat two of the best teams in the league in eliminating the Los Angeles Kings and Blues in this postseason, but they also ended both series in fewer seven games, an important distinction for a team that logs a lot of miles in travel. The Sharks have the speed to keep up with both teams remaining in the East, plus loads of experience. There’s a case to be made that they have established themselves as the favorites to win it all.