The Sharks will be without two key players — defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Tomas Hertl — and possibly a third as Joe Pavelski’s availability will be a game-time decision when San Jose tries to avoid elimination Tuesday night against the Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final in St. Louis.
Coach Peter DeBoer confirmed Tuesday after the morning skate that Karlsson and Hertl didn’t make the trip to St. Louis. Pavelski was on hand for the morning skate, but it remained unclear whether the Sharks linchpin would play later in the day.
“We know the importance of (Pavelski). Obviously all three of those guys are important guys,” DeBoer told reporters (via the San Jose Mercury News). “But if we have ‘em great, if we don’t, next man up and we’ve got to find a way to get the job done.”
DeBoer, who initially wasn’t at the morning skate Tuesday, per the Mercury News, had been tightlipped Monday about the health of three, all of whom were banged up to varying degrees in Sunday’s 5-0 loss in San Jose.
“I’m not giving any injury or travel updates today,” DeBoer told reporters Monday (via NHL.com) before the team left for St. Louis. “We’ll dress whatever lineup gives us the best chance to win, so you know that’s the best way I can answer that.”
The Blues appeared to go particularly hard against the three on Sunday, in no small part because Karlsson is tied for second on the Sharks with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in the postseason, Hertl has 15 points (10 goals, five assists) in 19 games and Pavelski, injured earlier in the Western playoffs, has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 13 games.
Hertl was shaken midway through the first period Sunday on a hit by Blues forward Ivan Barbashev, but stayed in the game until he didn’t come out for the third period. DeBoer said Sunday he thought a five-minute major could’ve been called on the play, but the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Monday opted not to issue any supplemental discipline on Barbashev.
Karlsson, who labored late in Game 4, continued to struggle in Game 5 with an accumulation of hits in the series. Plagued by leg and groin issues since January, he left Sunday’s game with 7:04 to play in the second period after logging 10:32 of largely unproductive ice time. Pavelski was hurt 1:21 into the third on a hit by Alex Pietrangelo.
“You want to get in on the forecheck, you want to hit guys as much as you can, spend as much time in the offensive zone as possible and wear them down. … As the series goes on, you hope you’re wearing them out,” Blues center Tyler Bozak said of his team’s hard-hitting strategy (via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
That leaves DeBoer to look to his bench: “Next man up. … Joe Thornton got suspended in the Vegas series, we played without him. We played without Joe Pavelski for six games in the Colorado series.”
With Karlsson and Hertl out and Pavelski in question, forward Marcus Sorensen, who has played in 17 playoff games this year but was scratched in two of the past three, is an option, along with Lukas Radil (six 2019 playoff games) and Dylan Gambrell (one). So is defenseman Tim Heed (two).
“It’s all about depth this time of the year,” said Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi, who missed 11 minutes of the third period Sunday with an injury before returning with 5:49 to play. “That’s playoff hockey. And it happens sometimes. Just have to live with that. … I feel good about our depth. I feel like we have had a lot of guys out of the lineup too that I feel are great players and can play in this league, so it’s not a problem.”
There’s also this bright spot, NHL.com points out: The Sharks are 4-0 when facing elimination in these 2019 playoffs.
“We’ve dealt with this before and guys have stepped in and got the job done, so you know, people can write us off,” DeBoer said. “But I know in our room, we know we’ve got guys that can get in there and get this done.”