SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks didn't exorcise all the demons of past playoff disappointments with their 5-0 Game 7 rout of the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. But they did take a big step toward rewriting the history of a franchise long associated with tough luck in the postseason.
Big names such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture still make up the core of this team, combining for four goals and six points in Game 7. But look past those familiar names and you'll find five ways this group is very different from Sharks teams of the recent past.
1. The torch has been passed: The Sharks initiated a philosophical shift in 2014 when stars Thornton and Marleau were stripped of their captain's "C" and alternate captain's "A," respectively. Two years later, Pavelski wears the "C" and Couture wears the "A," a wardrobe change symbolizing the final stage of that shift. And with Pavelski and Couture's performances in these Stanley Cup playoffs, they established themselves as faces of this team.
"They're big-time players. Through the course of the year, not just in the playoffs," Sharks winger Joel Ward said. "But if you watched them throughout the year, watching what they've done and scoring big goals, their skill level and hockey IQ is unbelievable. That combination is a pretty deadly weapon. They're leaders of our club, so that's what we expect them to do."
Entering the Western Conference finals against the St. Louis Blues -- Game 1 is Sunday at 8 p.m. ET -- Couture leads the NHL with 17 points while Pavelski is tops with nine goals. Couture also set a franchise record with 11 points in the series against the Nashville Predators. And with that, San Jose's transition of power is complete.
2. Responding to adversity: This hasn't exactly been a team calling card in years past. Los Angeles Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty said as much in the first round. After the Kings won Game 3 to cut the Sharks' series lead to 2-1, Doughty proclaimed, "You know they're thinking a little bit about it now, so we're right where we want to be."
But the Sharks have ferociously pushed back during the most adverse moments of these playoffs. After losing Game 3 to the Kings, the Sharks responded by racing out to a 3-0 third-period lead in Game 4 before holding on to win 3-2. When they blew a 3-0 lead in Game 5 against Los Angeles, they stormed back in the third period to eliminate their hated rival with a 6-3 victory. After blowing an early 2-0 lead and late 3-2 lead to the Predators in Game 6 before losing in overtime, the Sharks responded with their most complete performance of the playoffs in Game 7.
3. Smart offseason acquisitions: The Sharks have typically been known for splashy offseason acquisitions, whether it was acquiring Dany Heatley in 2009, signing Antti Niemi in 2010 or trading for Brent Burns in 2011. But general manager Doug Wilson adopted a new tactic entering the 2015-16 season.
Rather than make headline-grabbing changes, which many expected after Thornton and Marleau were stripped of their letters, Wilson made modest, tactical changes that greatly improved his club. Forward Ward and defenseman Paul Martin were signed to reasonable contracts while goaltender Martin Jones was acquired in a trade. Those below-the-radar deals gave the Sharks two skaters, in Ward and Martin, with 138 combined playoff games and a goaltender, in Jones, who won the Stanley Cup as a backup with the Kings in 2014.
Their contributions this season haven't gone unnoticed.
"They've been great for us all year. You always hear about Paulie and Wardo playing really well in the playoffs," Burns said. "Joner has been steady all year. He's been so good. I wouldn't say it's shocking, but it's good to see."
4. Developing role players instead of stars: For years, the Sharks were known for taking young players not yet fully formed and molding them into snipers. Jonathan Cheechoo was a 50-goal scorer by his third season. Devin Setoguchi scored 30 in his second season. Thomas Hertl scored four goals in his third NHL game.
But with Peter DeBoer behind the Sharks' bench, San Jose's top young players have been developed as excellent two-way players. As a result, younger players such as Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney have emerged as important role players this postseason. Even Hertl has bought into the change. Once hailed as the next Sharks sniper, the 22-year-old Czech has just two playoff goals but leads San Jose's forward with a plus-5.
5. Beating the Kings convincingly: Couture dismissed the idea of the Sharks gaining a psychological edge by beating their rival Kings, insisting Los Angeles was a "different team, different challenge."
But it's hard to overlook the confidence gained from beating a rival with two Stanley Cups that came back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Sharks in 2014. While the Sharks' abrupt postseasons were lamented year after year, their neighbors to the south established a quasi-dynasty. Call it smugness, call it confidence, the Kings felt they had the Sharks' number even when they trailed in their first-round series.
But the Sharks responded with a first-round win over the Kings in which they were the better team by every measure. That's a good sign, especially considering their only other series win over Los Angeles paved the way for their last trip to the conference finals, in 2011.