Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns were potent combo in Sharks' Game 1 win vs. Vegas

Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns were potent combo in Sharks' Game 1 win vs. Vegas

SAN JOSE -- At the end of his first practice with the Sharks in September, Erik Karlsson set up fellow defenseman Brent Burns for a goal in a 3-on-3 scrimmage. On Wednesday, he did it again in a Stanley Cup playoff game.

Nearly seven minutes into the second period of the Sharks' 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the first round, Karlsson laid off a pass for Burns on a zone entry. Karlsson simultaneously boxed out Vegas forward Max Pacioretty, allowing Burns just enough time and space to take a few strides and wrist a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead.

It's rare to see two defensemen on the ice in a 3-on-3 situation, let alone see one unfold in a playoff game. The format is reserved for overtime in the regular season, which shifts to 5-on-5 in the postseason.

"Yeah, it's not too often that happens," Karlsson said of his 3-on-3 shift Wednesday. "I think that we stuck with it, and it's all about puck control. Luckily, we got it first, and Burnzie made a great move there and capitalized on the opportunity. It's always nice to be able to score on 3-on-3."

It's not too often a team has two Norris Trophy winners on the blue line, either, and the duo gave the Sharks the kind of performance Wednesday night that general manager Doug Wilson envisioned when he traded for Karlsson in mid-September.

Burns (one goal, one assist) and Karlsson (two assists) each picked up a pair of points and were first and second, respectively, on the Sharks in total ice time. Across all situations, Burns led all Sharks with nine shot attempts. With Karlsson on the ice in 5-on-5 situations, the Sharks controlled 56.25 percent of the shot attempts and 53.33 percent of the scoring chances compared to 48.98 percent and 46.67 percent, respectively, when he wasn't.

[RELATED: Pavelski, Meier show their mettle in Game 1 win over Vegas]

The one-two punch of Burns and Karlsson was one the Sharks have not consistently had in their lineup since mid-January, when Karlsson first went down with what was later revealed to be a groin injury. In all, he played in just six of San Jose's final 33 games, including the regular-season finale last Saturday. If the Sharks had any concerns about Karlsson returning after so much time out of the lineup, they were put to rest.

"I thought he was excellent," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "I thought he was excellent in the first game back, too. I think he's gonna get better and better, which is good for us. He's got another I think he can even get to, but he makes a huge difference for us in our defensive and offensive game."

Karlsson also gave the Sharks a much different look than the offensive attack they employed in last spring's second-round elimination at the hands of these same Golden Knights. Burns scored five points against Vegas in that series, but no other Sharks defenseman scored more than two. In the second period of his San Jose playoff debut alone, Karlsson matched that total.

He, Burns and the rest of the Sharks played well enough to skate away with a 1-0 series lead Wednesday night. But, at least in Karlsson's eyes, that doesn't necessarily mean much for the rest of the first round.

"They took over the game at certain parts, but we found a way to get it back fairly quickly and stuck with it the whole time," Karlsson said. "Again, this was one game and we know that the next is gonna be completely different and we're gonna have to raise the bar if we want to have a chance to win the next one."

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

It's not clear when the Sharks will play next.

One star took a big step towards rejoining them when they do.

Tomas Hertl posted a video Wednesday on his Instagram of him skating in his native Czech Republic, writing that he was "[f]inally back" on the ice.

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Finally back 🏒 @filipchlapik @hertlik89

A post shared by Tomas Hertl (@hertlik48) on

Hertl, 26, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January and missed the final 18 games of the Sharks' season before it was suspended -- and, ultimately, ended -- due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center injured his knee on Jan. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, just four days after playing in his first All-Star Game. 

The 2012 first-round pick was one of the lone bright spots in the Sharks' otherwise dreary season, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games. San Jose generated 56.76 percent of the expected goals and 54.38 percent of the high-danger chances with Hertl on the ice at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Hertl himself accounted for a higher rate of 5-on-5 expected goals (0.95 per hour) than any season other than his rookie year.

Hertl said in May that he expected to be ready to start the 2020-21 season, no matter when that is.

"I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away," Hertl said at the time. "My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”

[RELATED: Thornton reportedly could play in Switzerland before NHL season]

Hertl's return to the ice marks an offseason milestone for the forward, who's signed through 2022.

He and his wife, Aneta, announced last month that they're expecting a baby in November.

'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

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'Red Penguins' tells wild story of NHL team's foray into Russian hockey

Vodka, violence and victory.

“Red Penguins,” a documentary released by Universal for streaming On Demand on Tuesday, chronicles the brief foray by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins into ownership of a Russian professional hockey team. The film features plenty of vodka and violence, although victory proved to be elusive.

Penguins owners Tom Ruta and Steven Baldwin made the decision to invest in the struggling club HC CSKA Moscow, which previously had been controlled by the Soviet Union’s Red Army. Steven Warshaw, then the Penguins' vice president for sales and marketing, was the man tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operations on the ground in Moscow, and guides you through all of the unbelievable twists and turns that came with bringing American ideals of organizational structure and capitalism into a society that was amid a transition from decades of communism.

An in-arena strip club, live bears serving beer and a near nine-figure partnership with Disney are just part of what came to define the Penguins’ wild reign behind the Iron Curtain.

Director Gabe Polsky utilizes Warshaw and his enigmatic personality to tell the majority of the story, but also includes interviews from Russia with the team’s former mascot and broadcaster in Moscow, as well as former Red Army manager Valery Gushin, who developed a unique relationship with Warshaw that was both friendly and contentious.

The crew had to traverse some dangerous ground in collecting the interviews, and even had one interview interrupted by KGB officials.

“This overweight man was just sort of standing behind us for like, way more longer than comfortable,” Polsky said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area last week. “Within a couple minutes, the police show up and you hear it, and start saying ‘get the hell out of here,’ and basically they thought there was a bomb nearby.”

Equal parts hilarious and chilling, “Red Penguins” showcases the wildest aspects of running a professional sports franchise in Russia while detailing the danger and sadness that can be a consequence of doing business parallel to an organized crime syndicate.

Polsky, who is the son of Soviet immigrants to the United States, believes American hockey fans and sports fans in general can get a unique look at the complicated relationship between the two world superpowers, and how that dynamic both brought the Penguins immense popularity in Russia and led to their downfall.

“Almost no films out there, that are English-speaking, that take the audience into Russia,” Polsky said. “Seeing the people, understand the psychology, mentality, up against the American mentality, and you see it even more clearly.

“There’s a lot to kind of unpack and understand in this film.”

Whether you’re a Sharks fan, a general sports fan or even just someone who enjoys a compelling story involving international relations, “Red Penguins” will have you glued to your screen.