EDMONTON – Playoff hockey always brings unlikely heroes.
It happened right away for the Sharks in their opener on Wednesday, when Melker Karlsson hissed a wrist shot past Cam Talbot a little more than three minutes into overtime to push San Jose past Edmonton, 3-2.
The Sharks coaching staff had some decisions to make with its lineup with Joe Thornton unavailable to play, and settled on plugging Karlsson into the top line left wing position with center Logan Couture and right wing Joe Pavelski, despite Karlsson playing mostly on the fourth line this season.
After the game, DeBoer indicated that he had help in making that call, and not necessarily from his assistant coaches.
“One of the best compliments any player can get is when you ask players who they want to play with, and [Melker is] a guy whose name gets mentioned,” DeBoer said.
“That’s the ultimate compliment. It’s an easy decision on my part. He’s as honest a player as there is, he plays a 200-foot game and [is] a big part of our team.”
The top line isn’t completely unfamiliar territory for Karlsson, who made a splash as a rookie in 2014-15 while playing mostly with Thornton and Pavelski. As the Sharks’ roster got deeper under DeBoer than it was in Todd McLellan’s final year, though, Karlsson was bumped down.
His game never changed, and he put together a nice regular season of 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points in 67 games this year while also contributing big minutes on the penalty kill. That makes him a welcome addition to Pavelski’s line, according to the captain, as he and Thornton have gone through multiple left wings throughout the year.
“All year it’s more of a question that me and Joe got – if we were getting a different linemate of something, what do you guys think about Melker coming back up?” Pavelski said.
“Every time we get him, we like playing with him. He is one of those players, he’s just honest. Gets on pucks first, takes hits, he breaks a lot of plays up, he’s responsible, blocks shots – everything you ask for in a teammate, he does. He got rewarded last night with a big goal.”
Karlsson elicited some laughter after Wednesday’s game by quickly responding, “yep,” when asked if that was the biggest goal of his career.
“We got the chance at the end, and I stuck it in,” he said.
Pavelski and the rest of the Sharks were happy to see Karlsson get a moment in the sun – and they let him know it, too.
“Oh, it was awesome, everyone’s excited for him,” Pavelski said. “Everyone wants to get in and give him a face-wash, or hit him a little bit and give him a shot. Really happy to see guys like that score.
“He does so many little things right.”
In Game 1, Karlsson added a big thing, too.