SAN JOSE - Over 12 minutes had elapsed in overtime of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday before San Jose Sharks forward Melker Karlsson did what he does best.
Karlsson went on the forecheck, delivered a hit against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole and helped the Sharks gain control of the puck. Karlsson lost his stick in the collision and went to the bench on a change. But seconds later, forward Joonas Donskoi scored from the left circle at 12:18 to give San Jose a 3-2 victory.
"We don't get that puck if he's not working hard on the forecheck and going against two guys and making them turn it over," said Chris Tierney, who had an assist on Donskoi's game-winner. "He just works so hard and is responsible on both ends of the ice. It's a luxury to have a guy that can go up and down the line like that."
Until Sharks coach Peter DeBoer started shuffling his lines five minutes into the third period, Karlsson skated on the top line at left wing with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski in place of the injured Tomas Hertl. Karlsson moved from the fourth line to the top line, but he had skated with Thornton and Pavelski at times early this season and throughout last season when the Sharks signed him as a free agent out of Sweden.
"I know how they play and I know what to do," Karlsson said.
Hertl missed Game 3 with a lower-body injury, and he did not go on the ice for San Jose's optional skate Sunday. DeBoer said Hertl is still "day-to-day. It's likely that Karlsson will skate on the top line again in Game 4 on Monday in San Jose (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"Melker, like the rest of our group, was great," DeBoer said. "He was tenacious, on the puck. He was in on the forecheck, caused the turnover on the overtime goal. We talk about interchangeable parts, but we have a lot of guys that play on our third line, play on our fourth line, that can jump up or have played higher in the lineup in the past.
"I think when you have really good players up top, you can have those interchangeable parts. Pittsburgh has got it. You look at the guys they pair with [Evgeni] Malkin or [Sidney] Crosby. They're not household names, some of them. Because you have quality people up top, you can stick in complementary guys like that and they can be very effective. I think Melker is one of those guys."
Karlsson didn't have a goal or an assist, but he made an impact with four hits and two takeaways. When Sharks defenseman Justin Braun tied the game 1-1 with a shot from the point at 9:34 of the first period, Karlsson provided a screen, cutting in front of Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, who didn't even move as the puck went past him.
"You got to be there if you're going to score goals," Karlsson said. "He must have not seen even the shot. Nothing. That's how we score nowadays."
Early in the second period Karlsson nearly got an assist after making a no-look pass between his legs from below the goal line to Brent Burns. But Burns was stopped from close range.
"He's got a good skill level on him and makes some plays," Pavelski said. "He made a few good ones last night. That was a really good play."
That wasn't Karlsson's first no-look, between the legs pass.
"I've had a few of those in my career, but that was nice," he said.
Having a chance to win the Stanley Cup is even nicer, especially after what Karlsson went through to get here. He injured his back during the offseason, missed all of training camp and the first 14 games of the regular season.
"Of course it's tough when you miss everything and you can't do the things you want to prepare," Karlsson said. "That injury wasn't like perfect even in the beginning. It's a battle the whole season to maintain it so you can play. ... We're in the Final. I can't complain."