Sharks forward Melker Karlsson has stepped his game up a notch and embraced his enhanced role due to the absence of Tomas Hertl.
When the news broke last week that San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl would miss Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final and eventually the remainder of the series, San Jose’s hopes of coming back from a 2-0 series deficit looked even dimmer.
Head coach Pete DeBoer tabbed second-year forward Melker Karlsson to fill Hertl’s role on the top line for Game 3 and the Swede made his coach and team satisfied with that decision as he played one of his best games of the 2016 playoffs.
He didn’t register a point, but Karlsson applied nonstop pressure on the forecheck and his hustle without a stick was crucial in keeping the puck in the zone which led to Joonas Donskoi’s game-winning goal.
Karlsson found himself on the first line with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton again to kick off Game 4. While the Sharks dropped the contest and DeBoer eventually shuffled the lines in the third period, Karlsson was one of the few bright spots. He scored the Sharks lone goal while falling down and was one of three Sharks to end the night with a positive rating (plus-one).
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Just look at his time on ice in the last three games and you can tell the Sharks want him on the ice as much as possible at this point of the season. Karlsson earned 17:31 of ice time in Game 3, 15 minutes and 50 seconds in Game 4 and again over 15 and a half minutes in Game 5. In the regular season he averaged just 13:31 of ice time and his average time on ice is still under 14 minutes in the postseason as a whole.
Karlsson is one of the main reasons the Sharks are still alive in the series as his success continued in Game 5. He scored a goal off a great feed from Logan Couture and notched an assist on Brent Burns’ game-opening goal on his wondrous chip and chase into the offensive zone, the type that not every forward in the league is capable of doing.
The goal may have been impossible with the nice behind-the-back look from Couture, but Karlsson was in a perfect scoring position and found the gap in the Penguins defense. It was his first multi-point playoff game and his fifth multi-point game of his career.
DeBoer put him on a line with Couture and Patrick Marleau for the elimination game Thursday night and it worked to perfection. It was a smart move to put Marleau, who has struggled in the series, with two of the Sharks top playoff performers.
Karlsson never has been or doesn’t project to be a 60 or 70-point scorer in the future – he finished the regular season with only 19 points in 65 games – but his defensive abilities are the reason he fits nicely on the third line for most of the year for the Sharks.
As one of the best defensive forwards on the team, this added offense we’ve seen of late is a huge bonus and makes him a complete player and legitimate top-six forward for the Sharks the rest of the way.