Karlsson excited for ‘meaningful’ 1,000th NHL game with Penguins

That was expected on Aug. 6, when Karlsson was acquired from the San Jose Sharks in a three-team trade involving the Montreal Canadiens. Last season, he won the Norris Trophy for the third time as the League’s best defenseman when he scored 101 points (25 goals, 76 assists), becoming the sixth different defenseman in NHL history to have a 100-point season.

The 33-year-old joined a Penguins team that had just missed the playoffs but qualified the previous 16 seasons and won championships in 2009, 2016 and 2017, led by Crosby, Letang and Evgeni Malkin

Karlsson said Pittsburgh was his best chance at winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.

On March 23, Pittsburgh was 30-30-9, seventh in the Metropolitan Division, 13th in the East and 24th in the NHL. He was on an 18-game goal drought with three assists from Feb. 29-April 1. 

“It’s been a roller coaster of a season, I think, for everybody,” Karlsson said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. I think we’re all very fortunate and excited and happy to be in the situation that we’re in. That’s all we’re focused [on] now. I don’t think anybody is really reflecting on anything that’s gone on in the past.”  

Even when it was tough, the way Karlsson held himself helped, Crosby said.

“I think he brings a lot of energy to the rink,” Crosby said. “It’s one thing you notice right away. I think you need that. You have different personalities on every team, but he brings a lot of fun, a lot of energy.  

“That’s so important. It’s a great trait to have and it’s definitely something that’s been welcomed here.” 

Karlsson has 813 points (188 goals, 625 assists) in 15 NHL seasons since being selected by the Ottawa Senators in the first round (No. 15) of the 2008 NHL Draft. He has the 17th-most points by a defenseman in NHL history and the second most by a Sweden-born defenseman, trailing Nicklas Lidstrom (1,142 points; 264 goals, 878 assists in 1,564 games). 

One of the premier offensive defensemen of his generation, Karlsson (6-foot, 190 pounds) has helped revolutionize the position from one more reliant on size when he was a rookie in 2009-10. 

“I think I’ve always been a smaller guy. Especially back then, I think the League was very different,” Karlsson said. “Everybody was big and strong, and physical. There was a lot of banging pucks around, and bodies. Obviously, I didn’t have that in my arsenal.  

“So I think that I just stuck with the things I thought made me good and tried to improve the things that were not so good. Luckily, I got the chance in Ottawa to come in at a good time. They believed in me from the beginning. I think that they helped propel me into the player that I am today.” 

That can’t be erased, regardless of how the rest of this season goes. 

Right now, that isn’t as important to Karlsson as this improbable push to the playoffs, one he doesn’t want to end.

“I think we’re all looking forward to playing a huge game tomorrow again,” Karlsson said. “I think we’ve been in that mindset for quite some time now. That’s just fun and that’s just exciting, and something I’ve been missing for quite a few years now.”

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