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 off of 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.
The one-two punch of Burns and Karlsson was one the Sharks has not consistently had in its 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, and 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."