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With their playoff hopes on the line, the San Jose Sharks hobble into critical Game 6

San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi gets medical attention on the bench in the third period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference finals against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.
San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi gets medical attention on the bench in the third period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference finals against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. AP

Top defenseman Erik Karlsson couldn’t finish the game because of a recurring lower body injury, while captain Joe Pavelski and second-leading scorer Tomas Hertl didn’t return after high hits, and winger Joonas Donskoi had his day cut short after taking a puck to the mouth.

As if the San Jose Sharks aren’t facing enough of a challenge after a 5-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues Sunday at the SAP Center, which put them in a 3-2 hole in the Western Conference final, they now may face an elimination game Tuesday in St. Louis with a depleted group.

The Sharks seemed to get a boost when Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, was in the lineup Sunday. Karlsson suffered leg and groin injuries during the season and sat throughout Game 4’s third period with an apparent re-aggravation.

But his first-period turnover led directly to St. Louis’s first goal 5:50 into the game, and he played just three minutes in the second period before being shut down.

“Hindsight’s 20/20,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “We made that decision based on the reports we get from the player and the medical, and the report was he could play and get through the game. It’s easier to sit here and say now (that) sure, you have regrets.”

San Jose suffered another significant loss in the first period when Hertl, whose 10 playoff goals were the second-most on the team, took a shoulder to the head from Ivan Barbashev at center ice. He stayed down after the hit and played through the second period before he, too, missed the entire third period.

“Arguably a five-minute major on Tommy Hertl that if it’s called, that’s a momentum-changing play right there,” DeBoer said.

Sharks forward Logan Couture said it reminded him of a similar play in Game 3 when Sammy Blais’s shoulder made contact with the head of San Jose’s Justin Braun.

“Saw the Hertl hit, I just watched the replay. Yeah, that’s a tough one,” Couture said. “But they had one earlier in Game 3 on Braun and nothing happened, so they can do it again, right?”

The next player to leave the ice was Pavelski, who was hit against the boards by Alex Pietrangelo early in the third period. San Jose’s frustrations spilled over from there, as the Sharks took 30 more minutes of penalties.

“When Pav got hit high, we lost our composure there in the third,” DeBoer said. “Not our finest moment, but I understand where that emotion’s coming from, with what he’s been through.”

Adding insult to injury, Donskoi was hit in the face on a clearing attempt by Braun early in the third period and didn’t return.

The attrition left nine players on the Sharks bench for most of the third period after Michael Haley was given a game misconduct, ending any hope of a comeback.

“You don’t want to make excuses but some pretty key guys that are going down, some offensive guys that when you’re playing from behind, it’s tough to push the pace,” defenseman Brenden Dillon said.

After playing two seven-game series to get to this point, the Sharks will need to win a third straight Game 7 to get to Boston for the start of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday. Except this time they may have to do without a full complement of players.

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