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First Round

Karlsson aims to do more for Sharks in Game 6 against Golden Knights

Defenseman having up-and-down series, dealing with groin injuries

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights have combined for 36 goals in the Western Conference First Round.

Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson has been on the ice for 25 of them -- 11 for, 14 against.

The numbers don't tell the whole story. Karlsson has not deserved credit or blame for all of those goals. But it has been an eventful, up-and-down series for the two-time Norris Trophy winner as he has come back from, and played through, groin injuries.


[RELATED: Golden Knights confident they'll prevail in Game 6 | Complete Sharks vs. Golden Knights series coverage]


The Golden Knights lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 and will host Game 6 at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS, ATTSN-RM, NBCSCA).

"I think that we all want to do more, myself included," Karlsson said. "It's not always going to go the way that you want it to. You're not always going to feel your best this time of year. But that goes for everyone. You just have to find a way to be successful within yourself."

The Sharks acquired Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 13 to be a difference maker. After an adjustment period, he rounded into form. As of Jan. 16, he had 43 points (three goals, 40 assists) through 47 games, tied with John Carlson of the Washington Capitals for fourth among NHL defensemen.

But he missed 27 of the Sharks' final 33 regular-season games because of groin injuries, and when he returned for the finale against the Colorado Avalanche on April 6, he said he wasn't going as hard as he could.

Karlsson seemed like he had been sandbagging in Game 1 against Vegas. He had two gorgeous assists and played 26:25 in a 5-2 win. DeBoer said he thought Karlsson was excellent. Karlsson said he felt decent and expected to get better and better.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm2: Karlsson pots one-timer on power play

Then Karlsson struggled along with his teammates in three straight losses when they were outscored by a combined 16-6. He had three assists but was minus-7. He was on the ice for 11 Vegas goals.

Again, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Karlsson wasn't to blame for all of those goals. But some mistakes stood out. He committed turnovers, fell down, got caught out of position and got caught flat-footed at times.
His ice time went from 29:08 to 20:54 and 21:35.

It's hard to know exactly how healthy Karlsson has been, because coaches and players guard that information closely. But after Game 4, DeBoer said Karlsson obviously wasn't 100 percent. And it's fair to say rust has been a factor considering how much time Karlsson missed down the stretch.

"There's rust, timing, all those things," DeBoer said. "I think that's real. But we're going on … What's he played, six now? Last game of the season and five of these games. I think we're probably on the other side of that."

Karlsson had two assists in the Sharks' 5-2 win in Game 5, giving him seven, most in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was plus-3 and played 22:20.

The first assist illustrated the fine line Karlsson often skates. He raced through the neutral zone, head up, and passed from right to left across the red line for forward Tomas Hertl, even though Golden Knights center William Karlsson was in between them with his stick outstretched.

The puck squeaked just behind the heel of William Karlsson's stick. Actually, it appeared to glance off of it. That easily could have been a neutral-zone turnover. But Hertl ended up with possession and scored, giving San Jose a 1-0 lead.

"Most of the time, it's mostly on the receiver to be in the right spot at the right time," Erik Karlsson said. "And he was that."

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm1: Kane tips in Karlsson's shot

Karlsson also made a long pass in transition that sprang forward Timo Meier on the rush. Center Logan Couture scored on the rebound, giving San Jose a 2-0 lead.

"I thought [Karlsson] was moving much better than the game before and much more effective, and I think you saw that on the scoresheet," DeBoer said.

Was that the best Karlsson felt in the series in terms of skating?

"It's hard to say," Karlsson said. "It felt good for parts of it, and there were sometimes when I feel like I can do more. But that's usually how it goes, I think, for everyone. I'm not too concerned about it. I'm going to try and take it shift by shift and do whatever I have to depending on how it goes out there to help our team be as progressive and productive as possible."

Does Karlsson still think he will get better the deeper the Sharks go?

"Yeah," he said. "I hope I get the chance to play for much longer. But again, it's one game at a time for us here right now, and we're all excited to go into Vegas on Sunday and play a similar style of play that we did [Thursday] here. I see no reason why we shouldn't."

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