Karlsson wished for opportunity now in front of Sharks

 nbcsports.com  05/11/2019 00:56:11 

SAN JOSE -- Having an eye on the Stanley Cup Final isnt something that's come about recently for the Sharks. San Jose has been focused on hockeys biggest stage since before the 2018-19 campaign even started, when the team acquired Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators.

Now, after a rollercoaster regular season, the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman and his teammates are gearing up for a Western Conference final run. In talking to the press ahead of Game 1, Karlsson reflected on joining the team at the start of the season and how the Stanley Cup Final has always been in the teams sights.

Once I got traded here, I knew we had a great chance, Karlsson told the press. (They were a) great team already, for me to come into and kind of find my way. And here we are. We put in the work throughout the whole year and in these playoffs to get to this position.

This isnt EK65s first trip to a conference final, of course. He and the Sens made it through seven games in 2017 before Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins knocked them out of the running for the Lord Stanleys Cup. Karlsson admitted he cant compare both conference final trips since the current one hasnt happened yet. But he did acknowledge his level of confidence in San Jose is very high.

I feel more confident, comfortable now than maybe I did then, he said. I think with Ottawa, it was a little unexpected. We werent looking that far ahead. Here, I think, this year, weve taken an aim at the Cup Final since Game 1. Thats our expectation.

Karlssons season with Team Teal hasnt been without its ups and downs. It took him a bit of time to get acclimated to San Jose after having only played with Ottawa during his professional career. Then came the mid-season injury that left him sidelined until the last game of the regular season. As the Sharks playoff run has continued, Karlssons level of play has only improved.

Eriks one of the best players in the game, look at the journey this year, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. Hes an important part of our team. Hes a difference-maker.

Wilson was quick to point out that the Sharks are a sum of their parts, as opposed to relying on one single player. Karlsson is part of that winning equation.

Were going to win in different ways on different nights with different guys stepping up, he said, and I think thats the beauty of our group.

[RELATED: Sharks preparing to play more physical series vs. Blues]

There is still no indication as to how long Karlsson will play for San Jose. For the time being, the Sharks are focused on making their playoff run last even longer.

For me, this is a privilege, and something when I got traded here that I wished for, Karlsson said. But theres no guarantees. Everything that this team and this organization has shown me is that theyre willing to put in the work to get to where we want to go. And now were sitting here and have some work left to do.

The Sharks eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights from the Stanley Cup playoffs just over two weeks ago, but that hasn't stopped the second-year franchise from snagging headlines -- or high-profile fans on the other side of the world.

The Golden Knights' Twitter account posted pictures Friday of Pope Francis receiving his very own custom Golden Knights sweater.

The threads were delivered to him by a fan visiting the Vatican, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

OMG! pic.twitter.com/DZKCECwUgx

— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 10, 2019

There's no word as to why the fan chose to bring a custom jersey to the head of the Catholic Church, but from the looks of the pictures, Pope Francis seems to be a fan of the Knights. We'll leave the jokes about the Pope liking a team from Sin City to you, however.

[RELATED: Sharks preparing to play more physical series vs. Blues]

Of course, the Sharks' prayers were answered April 23 in the first playoff round, when they ended Vegas' season in overtime of Game 7. San Jose scored four goals on a five-minute major power play to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period, and Barclay Goodrow potted the winner in OT.

The Knights -- and their fans -- would argue the Sharks benefited from divine intervention, as Vegas forward Cody Eakin's cross-check was not the sole cause of Sharks captain Joe Pavelski's subsequent concussion and cut on his head. Pavelski himself told reporters that it shouldn't have been a major penalty.

But after the disputed end to the first round, the Vatican gift-giving appears too little, too late ... at least until next season.

Brent Burns has played a lot in this Stanley Cup playoffs, and a lot more than anyone else. 

The Sharks defenseman leads all skaters in total ice time (408:59) and ice time per game (29:13). The latter mark is 41 seconds clear of the next closest skater (Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones), and 2:46 ahead of any player whose team hasn't been eliminated (Carolina Hurricanes blueliner Jacob Slavin). The former total, however, is in a league of its own.

Brent Burns has logged 408:59 of time on ice through two rounds, nearly an hour more than the next-closest player (53:44).

409 minutes is nearly equivalent to skating every minute of regulation for an entire 7-game series (420:00). #NHLStats #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/Az04SlIxLC

— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 10, 2019

Burns played more in the first round (213:18) and the second (195:41) than anyone else has in a single round this postseason. His total in the first round was the seventh most in a single series in NHL playoff history, and the former was 55th most.

Both of the Sharks' series going seven games is a driving force behind those gaudy totals, but Burns still averaged more ice time than anyone else in the first round (30:28 per game) and more in the second round (27:57) than all but two players: Jones (30:56) and Dallas Stars defenseman Esa Lindell (27:57).

Plus, the defenseman also has been relied upon to shut down opposing top lines in the playoffs. In the first round, Vegas Golden Knights forwards Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone each spent almost half of their 5-on-5 ice time matched up with Burns, according to Natural Stat Trick. Colorado Avalanche All-Stars Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen skated against Burns during 5-on-5 play about two-thirds of the time. 

Burns unsurprisingly is averaging plenty of time on the power play (3:08 per game), but he also leads the Sharks in total short-handed ice time (42:00), and average time on the penalty kill (3:00). Despite Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty's end-of-season insistence that Burns is not a top-unit penalty killer, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer is using him like one this postseason.

[RELATED: Sharks preparing to play more physical series vs. Blues]

The veteran defenseman is known for taking care of his body, and that work is paying off as he continues to shoulder a heavy load. He is tied for the team lead with 14 playoff points, and the Sharks sit four wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2016.

If they're going to eliminate the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference final, you're going to see Burns on the ice more often than not. 

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