For Erik Karlsson, this isn’t the 2017 playoffs.
At the beginning of this postseason, when Karlsson returned from his second groin injury of the year, there was some presumption that he’d go right back to lording over his competition. After all, didn’t he almost carry the Ottawa Senators to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final on a broken foot?
This line of thinking, however, failed to acknowledge the difference between the 2017 and 2019 ailments. A groin injury shortcircuits the engine of Karlsson’s dominance: his superior skating.
From Game 1 against Vegas, despite the flashes, Karlsson’s skating didn’t look quite right:
He had moments when that pop was there, so it could be closer to a timing issue. But Eakin had him surrounded on forecheck earlier, then Will Karlsson caught him at end with solid check -- these aren't normal EK happenings— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) April 11, 2019
No offense to Cody Eakin (21), who’s a good forechecker, but a healthy Karlsson isn’t likely to be cornered by the likes of Eakin.
Three weeks later, however, the evidence is mounting: EK65 might be back.
Logan Couture’s eyes got bigger when asked about Karlsson’s skating in San Jose’s 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche: “He was great. He was Erik Karlsson. There’s no one in the world that can skate and make plays like he does. He doesn’t even take strides, he just uses his edges. It’s effortless.”
From the beginning of Game 5, Karlsson was flying deep into Colorado territory, pushing offense. But it was his evasiveness that was most striking.
From my press box vantage point, it was breathtaking to watch the forechecker Alexander Kerfoot (13) line up and miss Karlsson.
This underscored the confidence that Karlsson skated with: He knew Kerfoot was onto him, but he also knew that he’d make the F1 miss.
“This series, he looks like he did in [December and] January when he was rolling and feeling healthy,” Peter DeBoer noted. “The timing is perfect. With Pav out, the hole he’s left, we needed a healthy Erik Karlsson.”
For just the second time this post-season and for the first time in this series, Karlsson (26:35) played more than Brent Burns (24:59).
How good can the San Jose Sharks be?
Just talking about their backend — from Brent Burns’s consistent brilliance to Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s late-season revival to Erik Karlsson’s noticeably-improving stride — they should be the best team in the league.
And Karlsson might not be done yet.
Gustav Nyquist noted, “As he feels better and better about his body, I think he’s only going to get better.”
It’s also worth noting that Vlasic and Burns took the bulk of 5-on-5 minutes against Nathan MacKinnon.
DeBoer really kept Karlsson away from the MacKinnon line tonight. Just 2:46 of 5 on 5 time they were on the ice together. Vlasic/Burns both saw more than 12 minutes of time against Mac— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzNHL) May 5, 2019
Perhaps the last hurdle for Karlsson before declaring him fully healthy is seeing him handle the toughest defensive assignments like he did in December and January. At this point, who’s doubting him?
Pavelski talks injury and potential return
Joe Pavelski spoke to reporters before boarding a plane to Denver for Game 6. While Pavelski isn’t likely to play on Monday, it’s a great sign that he’s traveling with the team.
Here’s the full transcript from his presser today.
On if he’s traveling to Denver:
Planning on it, yeah. So we’ll see if anything changes in the next half hour.
On his memory of the injury:
Yeah, I don’t know how long you want to be here, but I do remember quite a bit of it. Some of it I’ve seen on video by now. But just the faceoff, I remember taking it and I don’t really remember a whole lot after, getting pushed and all of that stuff. The first thing that kind of came back was getting helped off and Jumbo was right there calming me down. It was all good.
Then getting into the training room and kind of sitting there and getting the first staple in the head was probably when the first goal horn went off and just kind of being like, “What was that. Did we score?” And it was kind of, “Yeah.” By the time the fourth or fifth staple went in, it was going off again. It was just kind of like, ‘Alright, cool.’
And then from there, I remember sitting down in the office just kind of looking at the TV and I think the score was 4-3 and it was just kind of like, “How did we score all of these goals? How did we get the power play?” Stuff like that. Just really proud of the guys, the way they handled it and responded. It was pretty incredible to see what they did out there.
On what Joe Thornton said to him:
Just that we got you, we got you. You’re going to be alright. We had a little bit of a sense that it was fairly serious, but just coming back, that was definitely one comforting thing.
On how many staples he took and if his helmet cut him:
Yeah, I think there was eight in there. Just some pressure cuts. The helmet did its job, it stayed on, first and foremost. In those situations, they can come off. But it stayed on and did everything it was supposed to.
On if he was panicking:
No, I was still coming to a little bit. I was a little lost. Gathered it pretty quickly shortly after. But that night was a little tougher, from headaches and everything that comes with that. But after I woke up that next day, it was, I wouldn’t say I suffered with headaches, or this or that. It was, I was laying pretty low.
On how much the team cares about each other and celebrating in the room after Game 7:
We care about each other, for sure. It was pretty cool to see those guys, coming back and they tie it. Just having that feeling that we were going to win, even in overtime … you didn’t know how it was going to happen. For me, there was a cool, calming sense that I was going to get a chance to hopefully recover and get another chance to play still, in this postseason. Sure enough, Joner made some good saves, Goody comes up with a huge play. I had the headaches and was dizzy at that moment, but was able to come out. I wanted to be in that room, I was still very excited for those guys and then we went and got everything checked out after.
On symptoms the next morning:
It was pretty quiet for me. I didn’t have a ton of sensitivity to light. But if I looked at my phone for a little bit longer than a glance, you just get kind of tired. TVs, you didn’t want them loud, but they could be on. It just kind of stayed at that for a little bit. For now, everything’s been improving the last four, five days, been able to train a little bit, get through some of those training sessions and skate a little bit and start working our way back.
On how far away he is from coming back:
You’d like to think you can play tomorrow … but we’re going to be smart, obviously. Definitely getting closer, feel like I’m getting closer, feel like I want it. The fans have been great, friends and family, everybody’s been tremendous. The support, really felt it. I think as a player, you really appreciate that, in a moment like this. The biggest thing is just to see what the guys have been doing and it’s encouraging to see them really dig in and play just how I know they can play and how we as a group want to play. It’s fun to see that, so we’re just always looking for that consistency and keep going. But they’ve done a tremendous job.
On if Vegas players and other players in the league have reached out:
They checked in with different teammates and stuff like that.
I played against those guys for a lot of years. Friends with [Stastny]. I got no issues with that play.
Was it a 5-minute major? No. I don’t think it was. There’s different aspects. Am I glad they called it that way? Heck yeah.
The refs have a very tough job with how fast plays happen. It’s a scary play. It gets twisted and everything. Was it malicious or anything like that? I don’t believe so.
It’s part of the game. I got twisted up. Got bumped on the way down, hit the head.
Again, I was glad it was called that way. From that moment on, what the guys did after it, to actually go and do that, score four goals, it was a special night.
One of tougher nights and one of the better nights at the same time, to see and be a part of. Good to see these guys leading the way.
I’m happy to still be a part of this and playing.
On how he was affected by Game 5 ovation, in terms of concussion symptoms:
It didn’t affect me.
I was excited to get out there. Once I got out there and saw the crowd, and the energy, got into it, you realize how much you miss it. I knew I missed it. But these fans are special to me and this group. They always have been.
To get out there and see them again and hear ‘em ... it’s a great time of year to be playing hockey. It was a huge win for us. The biggest challenge now is to go in there with that same desperation, play a team that’s hanging onto their lives. They’re going to come out, play hard.