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Despite uncertain future, Sharks’ Karlsson soaks in All-Star experience

Erik Karlsson, who missed the last three games before the All-Star break with a lower-body injury, discussed potentially not participating in the festivities this weekend in San Jose.

But he wanted to be there for his new team:

“It’s important, when you get the opportunity to participate like I did. I felt that it’s something that I wanted to do. I know how much it means for this organization, this community, this fanbase.”

So the Sharks defenseman took part in the skills competition on Friday and the All-Star game Saturday, scoring twice in the Pacific Division’s 10-4 loss to the Central Division in the semifinals.

Seated next to Sharks teammates Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns at the podium of the interview room at SAP Center, Karlsson looked like he was at home. He laughed, cracked jokes and seemed comfortable:

“To share [the All-Star experience] with these two guys is something that’s always going to be special. I’m happy I got the opportunity to do this.”

The elephant in the room, of course, is Karlsson’s future. The Sharks took a gamble when trading for the two-time Norris Trophy winner in the offseason, knowing he could walk in the summer as a free agent. And as much fun as Karlsson is having this year, with the Sharks tearing up the standings of late and emerging as Stanley Cup contenders, he was mum about his future:

“I’m enjoying every moment but this weekend is not something I’m going to speak about the future.”

The “enjoyment” part, at least, is truthful. Karlsson, who spent the first nine seasons of his career in the hockey hotbed of Ottawa, was pleasantly shocked by the fandom that awaited him in San Jose. Like most, he had a perception of California and hockey:

“I always knew the Shark Tank was always a building that was tough to play in, it’s always full and loud, [but] I was surprised at the Bay Area in general, how many sports fans we had. That was something I didn’t know. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”

The crowd was vocal on Saturday. They roared when Karlsson scored his two goals and when Burns netted one as well. They booed Anaheim Ducks’ goalie John Gibson — who allowed seven goals in 10 minutes — starting a “Ducks suck” chant and calling for Las Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, something that may never happen again at SAP Center.

But the energy, the enthusiasm was there, and it was not surprising to Pavelski, now in his 12t season with the Sharks:

“I haven’t seen [the stadium] change over the years. … There’s a good passion for the game.”

He added:

“It’s fun playing in the city you play for. Every time names get announced, you hear the little extra roars. That was pretty cool to be a part of.”

The Sharks hope Pavelski’s mindset transfers over to Karlsson. After a sluggish start to his Sharks’ career, Karlsson picked up the pace to All-Star level. He has just 3 goals, but his 40 assists place him fifth in points amongst NHL defenseman.

He did light the lamp twice on Saturday, though:

“It’s been awhile since I scored, so I was happy about that.”

He showed it, too. After his first goal on a breakaway that beat Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, he reached back for a massive fist pump.

That, if anything, was a “welcome to San Jose moment” for Karlsson. The Sharks hope there are more to come.

Crosby on the Shark Tank

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby has fond memories of SAP Center, where his team clinched the Stanley Cup in 2016 with a Game 6 win over the Sharks. He claimed MVP honors on Saturday with 4 goals and four assists, despite missing Friday’s skills competition due to illness.

He was greeted with boos from the crowd throughout the game and when he claimed his prize, a new car:

“I kinda expected it. I watched last night, the ovation [teammate Kris Letang] got. They’re great fans here.”

For Crosby, coming to San Jose and going to the dressing room elicits positive feelings.

“Obviously when you win in a rink and you have those memories, it’s something you think about every time you go to it.”

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