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Karlsson waits for chance to get back in lineup
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published October 20, 2007
TAMPA - Andreas Karlsson said he is not a doctor, so he doesn't understand exactly what happened to him during the Lightning's Oct. 1 practice.
All he knows is he felt "a pretty sharp pain" and knew "right away" there was a problem.
The abdominal strain put the left wing "in the tub," as coach John Tortorella likes to say, for more than two weeks. Cleared to play, he is waiting for a chance to get back in the lineup.
"It's been a very long two weeks, I can tell you that," Karlsson said. "To sit on the sideline and watch, I can't even explain how tough that's been."
Tougher because the spot on Chris Gratton's third line Karlsson worked so hard to earn was snapped up by Mathieu Darche. It is the second straight season a lingering injury landed Karlsson on the sideline and in the doghouse of a coach who expects players to play hurt.
"But I can't worry about him," Karlsson said of Tortorella. "I have to worry about me playing as best I can. I hope I get that chance."
Karlsson, 32, was one of the feel-good stories of training camp. Challenged by the organization to be better after a disappointing 2006-07 in which he had three goals in 53 games and mostly scrambled for fourth-line playing time, the mild-mannered Swede upped the grit factor and fought for pucks and ice time.
That, after a solid playoff series against the Devils, earned Karlsson some respect, not to mention a spot in the lineup.
Then came the injury, the timing of which was similar to last season's groin strain which kept him out of five of the first six games and never was 100 percent.
Now, as then, Karlsson knows he must regain Tortorella's confidence.
"Be on the ice," the coach said. "That's what happens when you get hurt sometimes, you end up losing that opportunity, so we'll see how it goes. I can't forecast what's going to happen."
Partly because of the emergence of the hard-skating Darche, who avoided assignment to AHL Norfolk because of Karlsson's injury and likely will play again tonight when the Lightning faces the Thrashers at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"The first game he struggled with the puck as far as getting it out, getting it in," Tortorella said. "We went at him pretty hard with what we expect of him in that area and he's given us some good minutes. The puck seems to follow him around offensively. The minutes he's gotten, he's earned."
Karlsson went through his own transformation. One of Sweden's top scorers when he signed in the summer of 2006 as a free agent, he said he finally is acclimated to the speedier North American game.
He said he also has figured out the Lightning's puck-pursuit system: "There are a lot of things I need to improve in my game. But at least the positioning, I know where he wants me to be."
Karlsson just wants to be in the game.
"Not being able to go on the ice was awful," he said.