Tomas Hertl (Nick Lust/NHLI via Getty Images)
The San Jose Sharks could be without Tomas Hertl for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final after he was only able to practice briefly Friday. Hertl, 22, has six goals and 11 points in the post-season and has spent the entire playoff playing alongside Joe Paveslki and Joe Thornton.
The Sharks’ top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl clicking in Game 3 might be San Jose’s best chance at winning on home ice and getting into a more favorable position the Stanley Cup final, but there’s some concern that one-third of that line won’t be able to suit up.
Hertl, 22, was only in practice briefly Friday afternoon before heading off the ice, which is concerning because he’s been a key cog in the line for much of the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs. In typical post-season fashion, though, the Sharks weren’t about to give any answers as to what caused Hertl to miss the time in practice.
“Just maintenance,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. “He’s got a little something that's kept him off.” Asked if Hertl would play in Game 3, DeBoer would only add that the Sharks would “make all lineup decisions the day of the game. We'll see how everybody is tomorrow morning.”
Through 20 games this post-season, Hertl has been a key cog in the Sharks’ attack with six goals and 11 points, and he, Thornton and Pavelski have combined for a total of 51 points in the post-season. That’s steady production from the line and few San Jose units have looked nearly as deadly as Hertl, Thornton and Pavelski.
If Hertl’s held out of the lineup, the early indication is that he’ll be replaced by Melker Karlsson, but there may be some time needed for adjustment. The Hertl-Pavelski-Thornton has spent the majority of the season — and almost all of the playoffs — playing together. That said, Thornton and Pavelski have spent time this season playing alongside Karlsson, and the 25-year-old has been in the lineup throughout the playoffs. That would cause fewer waves, as Karlsson would simply jump up to the top unit from the fourth line.
Another potential option would be Joonas Donskoi. However, that would have a domino effect throughout the lineup, as Donskoi has been a fixture on the Sharks’ second line with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
Karlsson shifting up the lineup would mean the Sharks could bring a body in to slot into the bottom-six and play a limited role in Game 3. If that’s the case, Dainius Zubrus, who was taken out of the lineup in favor of Matt Nieto, could be an option. Zubrus had played well in a bottom-six role during the Western Conference final, and he’d certainly be an experienced option and veteran presence to fill a hole.
Of course, all the concerns could be for naught. If Hertl is good to go — and come playoffs, that might mean 75 percent healthy — he could help the Sharks pull to within one game in the final.