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Sharks need everyone to step up in crucial Game 4 against Golden Knights

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USATSI

Sharks need everyone to step up in crucial Game 4 against Golden Knights

Perhaps the biggest criticism head coach Peter DeBoer made after the Sharks were stunned 6-3 by the Golden Knights on Sunday in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was that not enough players stepped up.

“We didn’t have enough participants playing at a high enough level,” he told the media after the loss. “We weren't good enough across the board to win tonight."

Now, with even more players missing from the Sharks' lineup for Game 4, the stage is set for everyone to step up their game – and not, as Sharks’ radio announcer Dan Rusanowsky said on NBC Sports California’s live Facebook Q&A, “hand the game to another team on a silver platter.”

San Jose is getting a new look for Tuesday evening with Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Micheal Haley all being out of the lineup. While the shuffle is partially to adjust to Joonas Donskoi and Lukas Radil being added to the forward attack, it also serves as a test for the Sharks to get a jump on Vegas’ offense.

The Sharks haven't been able to counter the attack of the Knights’ forward assault in the last two games, particularly the combination of Mark Stone, Paul Stastny, and Max Pacioretty. As Sharks broadcaster Bret Hedican summarized during NBC’s Facebook Q&A that a line needs to make the decision to step up and commit to shutting the Stone line down – or better yet, the whole team needs to rise to meet that test.

Game 4 will also be a big test for Donskoi and Radil, who have been healthy scratches through the first three games of these playoffs. Donskoi told the media after practice on Tuesday that he had been feeling “kind of helpless” watching the team struggle the last two games and not being able to do anything to help.

Tuesday’s game would be a great time for Donskoi, as well as Radil, to really show how they can fill in and make a difference.

Overall, the Sharks as a whole need to step up on the defensive side of the puck. While Martin Jones no doubt has to have a much stronger performance than he did in Game 3, the blame for letting in three goals less than a minute into every period doesn’t rest solely on him.

After doing a great job taking the center of the ice away from Vegas in Game 1, San Jose has let the opposition travel quickly into their zone and make big plays. If the Sharks are going to have any chance of building momentum and not letting the Knights take over the pace of play yet again, they’ll need to get back to having that “defense-first” mentality.

[RELATED: How Thornton suspension affects Sharks' lineup]

While big performances from any of these parties could help the Sharks win Game 4 and tie the series up 2-2, it will really take all members of the team stepping up and banding together.

The Golden Knights enter Tuesday’s contest with a leg up in the series, plus the support of their home crowd to push them along. It’ll take the collective San Jose squad to shut them down.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer gives no update on players injured in Game 5

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USATSI

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer gives no update on players injured in Game 5

SAN JOSE -- Questions surrounding the health of the Sharks lineup continued on Monday as the status of three of the four players sidelined in Game 5 remains unknown.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer offered no update on Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, or Erik Karlsson the day after all three missed significant time in San Jose's 5-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues. DeBoer also didn't elaborate on whether the three players would travel with the team to St. Louis to play in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. Joonas Donskoi, who was also injured on Sunday but returned to the game in the final minutes, is expected to travel.

Neither Hertl nor Karlsson even took the bench with the rest of their teammates for the third period of Sunday's game, while Pavelski exited the contest in that third frame after being hit high by Alex Pietrangelo.

The nature of Hertl's injury is unknown, although there is speculation he may have been feeling the effects of a high hit he took from Ivan Barbashev in the first period of Sunday's game. Karlsson's status to even play in Game 5 was up in the air after he appeared to aggravate an old injury in Game 4.

The Sharks became especially emotional and took some big penalties in the third period of Game 5 after Pietrangelo's hit on Pavelski, given San Jose's captain missed six games after suffering a concussion in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

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

[RELATED: Pavelski, Karlsson leave Game 5 with injuries]

While the health of San Jose's lineup is a concern, DeBoer told the media on Monday morning he isn't worried about penciling other players in. 

"We've dealt with this before and guys have stepped in and got the job done," he told the press. "People can write us off but I know in our room we know we've got guys that can get in there and get this done."

 

Five observations after Sharks get blown out in Game 5 vs. Blues

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USATSI

Five observations after Sharks get blown out in Game 5 vs. Blues

If the Sharks are to face Boston and play for the Stanley Cup, it will necessitate a third consecutive series featuring a Game 7.  On Sunday, San Jose had the bold opportunity to seize a three-games-to-two series lead against St. Louis but fell completely flat after the first 20 minutes.

Now they face elimination, needing two wins to escape and advance. Here are the big takeaways from the Western Conference final Game 5 loss. 

Injury concerns

More concerning than the 5-0 loss is the four players San Jose lost to injury during the contest. Erik Karlsson skated only three minutes of the second period and never returned. A best logical guess is that his previous leg-related ailments have returned or worsened. Tomas Hertl absorbed an Ivan Barbashev head hit in the first period, and while he played during the second period there was no return for the third. 

Joe Pavelski was unnecessarily pinned and elbowed into the boards by Alex Pietrangelo early in the third, and immediately left the contest. Lastly, Joonas Donskoi was accidentally struck in the face by a puck that Justin Braun was trying to clear from the defensive zone in the third.  The bloodied forward made a quick exit to the dressing room. 

Facing elimination

The challenge for San Jose to adapt and be better in Game 6 while facing elimination on the road would have been enough on their plate. However, if they are forced to do without one, or two, or more of those previous four mentioned players — the task goes from difficult to dire.  

Offensive struggles

It’s been a slogan all season that the Sharks would go so far as the defense could take them. However, the offense has hit an uncharacteristic low at the most unfortunate time. San Jose has just one goal in their last six periods.

Their first 20 minutes on Sunday saw eleven shots on goal. But then, things dwindled to just six and four in the respective final two periods. Anyone looking at the final score might be concerned with the “five” allowed from Game 5, but if you’re following trends, San Jose’s “zero” is the bigger story.

Odd stats

San Jose and St. Louis have many things in common, including getting things done the hardest of possible ways.  The Blues own a 7-2 playoff record outside of Missouri, meaning they’re an unexplainable 4-5 on home ice. As for San Jose, they’ve got an 0-6 record when leading a series, but a 10-3 record when tied or trailing in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[RELATED: Health a huge concern to key Sharks after Game 5 loss]

Nothing easy

It’s amazing how the Sharks have never had the opportunity for a single comfortable breath in these playoffs.  The last two losses are their first in sequence since April 14 and 16 while facing Las Vegas.  This means they went more than a month without losing back-to-back games -- but now., they face elimination.

No matter how and when these playoffs conclude for San Jose, the overwhelming theme is already starting to write itself: Every step has been a grind.