The Sharks' apparent game-winning goal Wednesday was waved off thanks to winger Ryan Donato making incidental contact with St. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington with fewer than 15 seconds remaining.
Donato was parked in the crease as Binnington sprawled to cut off Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, as Donato anticipated a pass that would not come. He expected Karlsson to lay it off to him, not realizing the two-time Norris Trophy winner saw another option.
Kevin Labanc cut in from the blue line, and he seemingly won the game when his shot off Karlsson's feed from below the goal line trickled through Binnington's legs. The goal was immediately waved off, however, and the call stood. San Jose's 2-1 win would wait until a shootout, and Donato learned an important lesson in playing with Karlsson.
"It's not his fault he has eyes in the back of his head," Donato said after the Sharks' win in a video conference with reporters. "Any chance you have to score, you try to get there for him. Obviously, he had something else in mind."
The sequence began with Karlsson pouncing on a loose puck in the Sharks' offensive zone, smartly sneaking behind the Blues' defensemen. It was emblematic of a night that coach Bob Boughner said was the defender's best so far this season, following a subpar start to the season by his standards.
Although the 30-year-old ended Wednesday night without a point, he constantly made his presence felt. Karlsson skated well all game, evading the Blues' forecheck once in the first period by simply skating backward before finding wide-open partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who carried the puck out of the defensive zone. He led the rush from his own end multiple times in the third period, splitting two Blues forecheckers at the end of a power play and hitting the post on a short-handed chance.
"I think if you re-watch or while you watched, you could tell that he simplified it a little bit," Boughner said. "He wasn't trying to thread passes through people's feet, he wasn't trying to sauce passes all over. He was just making the easy play and following the play up, and I think that's the best that he's been for sure."
Karlsson was a driving force behind the Sharks' improved play in the third period, which might have been their best defensively all season. San Jose allowed just three shots on goal in the final 20 minutes, and Karlsson played nearly half the period (9:35). He also played more even-strength minutes in the third period and overtime (7:58) than any other Shark.
Injuries limited Karlsson to just 56 games last season, and Wednesday's win was only his fourth this season. The Sharks have still been badly out-attempted and out-chanced at 5-on-5 with Karlsson on the ice this season, but perhaps the win over the Blues can serve as a turning point in his campaign.
As Donato put it, the Karlsson the Sharks got Wednesday is the one they "need" this season.
"There's nobody like him, right?" Donato said. "He can do everything. He's a fantastic player, and obviously a guy that you wanna learn from. He finds plays. He creates space. He does a lot of things that even to hockey players it's hard to understand, but he finds ways to do it. It's fascinating to watch, and sometimes it's kind of hard to focus and worry about yourself during the game."