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Erik Karlsson 1000 Games, Two Points Needed



Pittsburgh Penguins, Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson was the Ottawa Senators first-round pick in 2008, 15th overall. By 2009, he made his NHL debut with Ottawa at Madison Square Garden. The young Swedish defenseman registered an assist and was a minus-1 in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

That first game was a bit of a rude awakening for Karlsson, 33, but the start of an epic career that has included three Norris Trophies and, as of Saturday night, 1000 games.

“It was against the Rangers at the Garden, and I played, I think, six preseason games that year. Back then it was a lot different than it is today. It was a lot of older guys in the league,” Karlsson said. “Martin Gaborik came down the flank, and it was not the speed that I thought I was used to (from) playing those preseason games. So it was a good eye-opener.”

Welcome to the league, rookie.

He’s been involved in some memorable games, too. One is far more memorable for Pittsburgh Penguins fans than him: the Ottawa Senators’ double-overtime Game 7 loss to the Penguins in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. No one bothered to bring up that game with Karlsson when discussing his career, but there is a favorite game that will go down in history.

The 2019 Round One Game 7 battle against the Vegas Golden Knights.

For good reason, Karlsson confirmed that was his favorite game of all time. His San Jose Sharks trailed the Golden Knights 3-0 in the middle of the third period. Game over, right? Nope.

San Jose received a controversial five-minute power play and proceeded to score four goals. FOUR. Karlsson quarterbacked the power play with Brent Burns and established multiple zone entries with offensive pressure.

The result was four goals in 4:01 and a Sharks lead. However, Vegas tied the game with only 47 seconds remaining. In overtime, Karlsson earned the primary assist when he set up Barclay Goodrow for the winner.

“We’ll never see another game like that,” Karlsson told PHN with a big smile.

Like the Ottawa team, San Jose advanced to the Conference Final, and like Ottawa, San Jose lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion, this time the St. Louis Blues.

Last summer, it was time for Karlsson to part with San Jose. Their rebuild is still looking for the bottom, and Karlsson wants to win a Stanley Cup before his career ends.

After a couple of months of trade talks, the Penguins were the sweepstakes trade winner, outbidding numerous other teams.

“I think he brings a ton of energy to the rink every day. He’s a busy guy. Let’s just say … he loves people. He loves conversation. He loves hockey,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “And so, he brings a ton of energy every day. I think that energy is contagious. It’s good to have those types around in your dressing room, on the bench, in between periods. It’s important energy to have as a group.”

In his first 999 games, Karlsson has 813 points, and scored 188 goals.

Indeed, Karlsson has been a unique addition to the Penguins locker room. With his third organization, the smooth yet explosive skater has faced the media during the good times and bad. He’s had the jokes and taken the heat when the team was in a spiral.

The Penguins are not yet guaranteed a playoff spot this season. With three games to go, their fate hangs perilously on the outcome of the last three games. Win out, and they’re in. Lose a game, and they’ll need others to lose as well.

The Penguins will drop the puck around 8:20 p.m. Saturday and Karlsson will receive plenty of accolades. If his tributes follow the path of others, plenty of former teammates will offer video tributes.

“It’s always a great feeling to be able to have lasted that long. I’ve been very fortunate to play with a lot of guys that have reached that milestone, and I know what a grind it is,” Karlsson said. “It’s going to be a fun game (Saturday), not only for (1000 games), but it’s a meaningful game for us. I’m happy that we’re in the situation we’re in. And to play a thousand games, under the circumstances that it will be, tomorrow’s (game is the) most important thing.”