OTTAWA â€” Erik Karlsson was the best player in the Ottawa Senators’ opening round series against the Boston Bruins, and that was while playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel.
If the Ottawa captain was that good playing injured, one has to wonder how much better he can be when healthier. The Senators are going to find out as they take on the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, with Game 1 Thursday at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Despite the injury Karlsson led all players in ice time in the opening round of the playoffs averaging 30:23. He sits third on the Senators and leads all defencemen in scoring with six assists. While still not 100 per cent, Karlsson’s heel has been improving as the post-season progresses.
“He’s playing fantastic, he’s doing what Erik Karlsson does and that’s taking over games at times,” said defence partner Marc Methot. “Being clutch for us, coming down with key moments in games where he’ll provide a nice pass or a timely goal and that’s just what he does. He’s a great leader and he’s extremely competitive and it’s showing through right now in his play and his determination.
“It’s a credit to how badly he wants to win. You can’t say enough about him.”
While injuries are usually kept hidden during the playoffs Karlsson surprised many, including his general manager, when he revealed what he had been battling through following the Senators series ending victory.
“I was tired of talking about it and it’s something that probably is not going to affect me anymore moving forward,” Karlsson said. “It’s something that’s done with and I just felt like getting it out of the way instead of keep having it linger on and I’m not that much for secrets.”
The Bruins struggled to contain Karlsson and there’s little doubt the Rangers will do whatever possible to limit his chances, but the 26-year-old said he’s fully prepared for the extra attention.
“This is the time of the year where everybody finishes their checks and everybody plays really hard every shift. That’s why we play so hard all year to get to this point and it comes with the territory so it’s not something that’s new, it’s not something that’s going to change anything. It’s just something you’re going to have to deal with and something you’re prepared to deal with.”
Karlsson will be going up against fellow Swede and good friend Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers goalie was solid in the opening round of the playoffs and Karlsson says the key to any success will be to frustrate Lundqvist.
“We’re going to have to make it hard on him. If he sees the puck he’s going to make most of the stops and we’re going to make it hard in front of him by putting a lot of traffic in there and throw a lot of pucks at him. The more shots we have the more opportunities we’re going to have for one to go in.”
This will be the second playoff meeting between the Senators and Rangers. The two teams squared off in 2012 with the Rangers winning the series in seven games. Few players remain from either team, but Karlsson, who was part of the Senators roster, says he has a different feeling about this Ottawa group.
“I think everybody’s had that all year, it’s just been a long process of getting to where we are today and I think we worked extremely hard to be standing here today and we still have a lot left to do. We expected to win the first series and we expect to win this one too.”
The Senators were 2-1-0 against the Rangers this season. While Senators coach Guy Boucher liked what he saw from his team against the Bruins in the opening round, he knows they’ll need to be even better to have any chance of beating New York.
“We wanted to keep improving and that was our motto since day one, to get better every day and that was our motto in the playoffs, to get better every day and now that we’ve won this series we’ve learned some things, but we need to get better because this is going to be a team that has high end depth. When I look at the portrait of the Rangers there are no real flaws in their game, there are no real weaknesses.
“This is going to be an even better test.”
Notes: The Senators remain hopeful to have everyone at their disposal for Thursday’s game. Tom Pyatt remains questionable as he was dealing with an upper and lower body issue, as does D Mark Borowiecki (lower body) who has resumed skating.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press