Karlsson reaches superstar status for Golden Knights with overtime winner


Tuesday, May 1, 2018 | 12:20 a.m.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Golden Knights forward William Karlsson skated in on goaltender Martin Jones, waiting for him to make the first move. 

Before Jones could blink, Karlsson flicked the puck past his blocker and into the net, silencing the sellout crowd of 17,562 inside SAP Center in San Jose as the Golden Knights topped the Sharks 4-3 in overtime to take a 2-1 series lead.

The overwhelming narrative of the Golden Knights’ season has painted the team as a pack of castaways who have rallied together and created something special despite their lack of a superstar player.

Whether that narrative was ever true can be argued (Marc-Andre Fleury might have something to say about that), but after Monday night’s overtime winner it’s definitely over because Karlsson is a superstar.

The 25-year-old Swede has continued his 43-goal breakout season into the playoffs, leading the Golden Knights in goals (4) and points (9), the most important of which came on a laser shot to give home ice advantage back to Vegas.

“Playoff hockey is where you get your notoriety,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “It’s where you become (known as) an elite level player around the league, and I think he’s making a name for himself. That’s for sure.”

Passing the puck never crossed Karlsson’s mind on the final play, and with good reason. He has displayed historically great shooting accuracy this season. Karlsson’s 23.4 shooting percentage is the highest for any player with at least 40 goals since 1994.

“I was behind him when he scored that goal, and you just see that type of thing,” Schmidt said. “He does it in practice, he does it in games, big situations like that and it’s incredible to watch him do that. It’s so cool to watch him play and watch him become the guy and the player that he has.”

Karlsson’s spectacular season has often been dismissed as a fluke, but it’s time to stop.

He scored two more goals than Connor McDavid, eight more than Anze Kopitar, nine more than Auston Matthews and 14 more than Sidney Crosby. His plus/minus of plus-49 was 15 points higher than any non-Golden Knight in the entire league and the fifth highest since 1999.

What will it take for Karlsson to prove that he belongs with the other names on that list?

“He scored 43 goals, what else do you want?” Karlsson’s linemate Jonathan Marchessault said. “And he shows up in the playoffs, gets big goals and he’s a big-time player.”

In the first round of the playoffs, Karlsson was almost exclusively matched up with Kings’ captain Kopitar and outplayed him en route to a four-game sweep by Vegas.

“There’s a lot more to Karlsson than just scoring,” Marchessault said. “Defensively he’s awesome and I think we have a mentality as a line to play well defensively first and goals will happen. That’s what happened tonight.”

Karlsson’s defense has been great all season, and his passing has improved drastically as the year went on.

Monday night he assisted on Reilly Smith’s goal in the second period with a tip pass so perfect it was hard to believe he did it intentionally. Karlsson received the puck just in front of the crease, and deflected it behind his back to Smith, who slotted it into the wide-open net.

“It’s more instinct, I’d say,” Karlsson said. “I saw Reilly in the corner of my eye and I knew he was back there, so I just kind of tried to get him the puck. We have the chemistry. We think the same. We are pretty fast, all three of us, and we aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”

Karlsson’s confidence has grown all season, crescendoing in his division-clinching breakaway goal on March 31 that he slipped between his own legs and fired into the goal. That goal was also against San Jose, and he has tormented them all season with seven goals and six assists in seven games this season.

“He’s done it all year for us, and that was a huge goal tonight, obviously,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “I don’t know if there are any superstars on our team, but there are a lot of really good hockey players. I’m sure a lot of coaches around the league say there are some star players on this team.”

Gallant is being modest, but he’s wrong this time. The underdog narrative has served the Golden Knights well as motivation this season, but it’s no longer true.

Karlsson is a star.