SAN JOSE -- Having an eye on the Stanley Cup Final isn’t something that's come about recently for the Sharks. San Jose has been focused on hockey’s 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 team’s 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 isn’t EK65’s 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 Stanley’s Cup. Karlsson admitted he can’t compare both conference final trips since the current one hasn’t 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 weren’t looking that far ahead. Here, I think, this year, we’ve taken an aim at the Cup Final since Game 1. That’s our expectation.”
Karlsson’s season with Team Teal hasn’t 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, Karlsson’s level of play has only improved.
“Erik’s one of the best players in the game, look at the journey this year,” Sharks’ general manager Doug Wilson said. “He’s an important part of our team. He’s 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.
“We’re going to win in different ways on different nights with different guys stepping up,” he said, “and I think that’s the beauty of our group.”
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 there’s no guarantees. Everything that this team and this organization has shown me is that they’re willing to put in the work to get to where we want to go. And now we’re sitting here and have some work left to do.”