ST. LOUIS -- Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl each played a critical role for the San Jose Sharks throughout the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. Missing just one of those players was going to make their chances of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final difficult.
Missing all three proved too much to overcome.
Dylan Gambrell, who centered the second line in place of Pavelski, scored his first NHL goal, but the Sharks were eliminated with a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at Enterprise Center on Tuesday.
[RELATED: Complete Sharks vs. Blues series coverage]
The Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup Final and will play the Boston Bruins. Game 1 is at Boston on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS).
"You're missing three guys that play a lot of minutes for us," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "Three very, very good players in the NHL and we were in a tough spot. But I thought we played extremely hard. No one gave up."
Neither Karlsson nor Hertl traveled to St. Louis for Game 6. Karlsson had been laboring through the first two periods of Game 5 and the defenseman did not play in the third. Hertl was hit high by Blues forward Ivan Barbashev in the first period of Game 5 and the forward also did not play in the third. Pavelski, who was in St. Louis but did not skate prior to Game 6, left 1:31 into the third period of Game 5 after he was hit along the boards by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
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The three combined for 40 points in 51 playoff games: Karlsson had 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 19 games; Hertl had 15 points (10 goals, five assists) in 19 games; and Pavelski had nine points (four goals, five assists) in 13 games.
Despite the losses in the lineup, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said they gave everything they had.
"I was proud of our group tonight," he said. "I don't think the score reflected the work we put in. I know what the scoreboard said at the end of the night, but I felt we made them earn it tonight. We showed up under tough circumstances and we got efforts from everybody. That's all you can ask."
Indeed, the Sharks got to within 2-1 when Gambrell scored 6:40 into the second period.
But again, San Jose felt the absence of its injured players. Karlsson and Hertl weren't on the penalty kill, and Brayden Schenn scored a power-play goal at 12:47 of the second to give the Blues a 3-1 lead.
"Big goal to cut it to one. It was unfortunate to give up another power-play goal there," Sharks forward Evander Kane said. "If we're going into the third period down 2-1, it's a little bit different than them having a two-goal lead."
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The Sharks pushed the pace in the third, outshooting the Blues 10-0 in the first 12:30 of the period, and had their chances. Forward Kevin Labanc hit the crossbar on the Sharks' lone power play, and Kane had a chance alone in front saved by Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, and Couture had a partial breakaway, but Binnington made a glove save.
With its playoff run over, San Jose will face questions entering the offseason as Pavelski, 34, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 along with forward Joe Thornton, 39, and Karlsson, 28, who was in the final season of the seven-year contract he signed with the Ottawa Senators.
However, the Sharks weren't thinking about any offseason changes after the game. They were only thinking of another lost opportunity to win the Cup, another postseason finish that came sooner than they expected.
"We expect there are going to be changes," Couture said. "Right now, it's just too early to think about it.
"[Playoff losses], they all hurt. Doesn't matter what the roster is. You get into the playoffs, you believe you can win. There are 16 really good teams, then it gets down to eight, then four, then it really becomes a reality. It was down to three before tonight. You're really thinking about it and, yeah, it hurts. There's no way around it. That's it."
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