He did it for 82 games during his club’s inaugural regular season. He did it for four games during the first round of the post-season — an opening sweep side-stepping the need for any more than that quartet of wins. Now, after another night of offensive wizardry that has visions of his Blue Jackets tenure fading further from memory, William Karlsson is running out of ways to prove he’s the real deal.
After Karlsson’s side dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first match of the clubs’ second-round series — a 7-0 shellacking that had the Golden Knights faithful thinking sweep once more — the teal-clad vets fought back for a narrow double-overtime win in Game 2. On Monday, it was Vegas’ turn to reclaim the reins, as the Golden Knights got an overtime win of their own to take a 2-1 lead ahead of Wednesday’s Game 4.
But it’s how they earned that victory that has those still waiting for Karlsson to tumble back to reality looking silly. Watching him fly down the wing to bury the overtime winner — a point-blank, perfectly placed shot on Martin Jones — helped with that. His jaw-dropping tip-pass to Reilly Smith in the second period removed all doubt.
The expansion draft jackpot — he of 43 goals and 78 points during the regular season — chalked it up to chemistry rather than personal game-changing skill.
“It’s more instinct, I’d say,” Karlsson told Jesse Granger of the Las Vegas Sun after the win. “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.”
Much has been made of Karlsson’s 2017-18 emergence. The 25-year-old’s goal-scoring sum this season more than doubled the 18 tallies he posted through his 183 pre-Vegas games. As impressive a one-year jump as we’ve ever seen in the big leagues, and one that has many expecting an eventual regression.
That’s not how those who’ve seen him most this season see it.
“He scored 43 goals, what else do you want?” fellow Knight Jonathan Marchessault told Granger. “He shows up in the playoffs, gets big goals and he’s a big-time player. There’s a lot more to Karlsson than just scoring. 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 [in Game 3].”
What happens to Karlsson’s production in 2018-19 is anyone’s guess. But there’s no minimizing what the former Blue Jacket is doing for Vegas in the right here and now. That he hasn’t slowed amid the grind of the playoffs — he’s got four goals and nine points through seven post-season games so far — should be a key part of the conversation concerning whether he can be considered a legitimate superstar, according to teammate Nate Schmidt.
“Playoff hockey is where you get your notoriety,” Schmidt said to Granger. “It’s where you become (known as) an elite-level player around the league, and I think he’s making a name for himself. I was behind him when he scored that goal.
“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.”