The St. Louis Blues’ 2-1 victory in Game 4 wasn’t marred by controversy or unwanted involvement from the officials. But if fortunes favoured the San Jose Sharks to this point in the series, they may have swung in the opposition direction as St. Louis evened the Western Conference Final at two games apiece.
Erik Karlsson sat on the end of the bench for a seven-minute stretch in the latter half of the third period before returning for the final two minutes to assist the last-minute push as the Sharks pressured with an extra attacker.
Karlsson appeared frustrated and ultimately impeded by an obstruction involving his lower body before his prolonged absence, and was seen testing his limitations during a stoppage in play.
Much has been made of Karlsson’s mobility in the postseason. Many figure that the talented defenseman is still battling the groin issues that contributed to him missing 29 games in the regular season and that he remains limited by the ailment. Others wonder if he’s risking some leverage in the lead-up to finally reaching unrestricted free agency by playing through an injury to chase a championship with the Sharks.
While the Sharks will have options and perhaps even a plan already in place to deal with life without Karlsson if he indeed heads back east this summer, there are limited choices moving forward in the Western Conference Final and potentially beyond.
The two players that have logged the most minutes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to this point are Pete DeBoer’s pair of Norris Trophy winners, Karlsson and Brent Burns. Burns logged 12 minutes in the third period to deal with his battery mate’s limited availability, while Karlsson saw over 25 minutes despite missing a handful of shifts.
Logging so much ice, Burns and Karlsson have been everything for the Sharks, combining for seven goals and 30 points in 18 games.
DeBoer was asked about Karlsson’s status after the loss and responded ominously, “I don’t have anything for you there.”
While the Sharks’ success doesn’t completely hinge on the health of Karlsson, further limitations or an exit from the lineup will shift the dynamics considerably for the Sharks as they continue with their championship bid.
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