Any­thing but av­er­age

Karls­son’s bril­liance has Sens on verge of deep­est run in a decade

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY JONAS SIEGEL

Alain Vigneault lamented the “av­er­age” per­for­mance he got from too many of his Rangers in Satur­day’s loss to the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors.

“And at this time of the year against such a good op­po­nent,” New York’s head coach said over the week­end, “you can’t bring an av­er­age game to the ta­ble.”

Erik Karls­son has been any­thing but av­er­age for the Sen­a­tors.

The bril­liance of the 26-yearold cap­tain has the Sens on the verge of reach­ing the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal for the first time in a decade. Not much has sep­a­rated Ot­tawa and New York through five games — the Rangers have outscored the Sen­a­tors 18-15 — other than Karls­son, play­ing through ob­vi­ous in­jury, shin­ing bright­est.

The Swede, who was drafted a year af­ter the Sen­a­tors last made the con­fer­ence fi­nal in 2007, has five points in three vic­to­ries dur­ing the se­ries. He has loomed es­pe­cially large in each of those wins.

“He makes plays that are a step above every­body — like most su­per­stars do,” Sens winger Mark Stone said.

One of those plays came with less than five min­utes to go in reg­u­la­tion dur­ing Game 1. His shot from an al­most im­pos­si­ble goal-line an­gle beat Hen­rik Lundqvist and gave Ot­tawa a 2-1 vic­tory. Karls­son also

logged a game-high of al­most 29 min­utes, blocked three shots and matched Der­ick Bras­sard with a team-high five shots on goal.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau was the hero with four goals in a

6-5 dou­ble-over­time win two nights later, but Karls­son was also a bright light. De­spite ex­it­ing briefly for the dress­ing room with in­jury, he fin­ished with more than 37 min­utes of ice time — top­ping all play­ers

yet again.

Ot­tawa had 57 per cent of the even-strength shot at­tempts when he was on the ice and only 46 per cent when he wasn’t.

Karls­son’s most im­pact­ful per­for­mance of the sec­on­dround se­ries may be the most re­cent one.

There were the 31 min­utes and 12 shot at­tempts in the 5-4 Game 5 win, both of which led all play­ers, and of course, the three crit­i­cal as­sists.

On the first, Karls­son rushed up the ice from his own zone, drew Rangers de­fender Nick Holden in and then dropped to Clarke MacArthur, who found Mike Hoff­man cross-ice for the game-ty­ing 2-2 goal.

Then with just over 90 sec­onds left in reg­u­la­tion and the Sens down one, Karls­son flung an­other pass to MacArthur that just eluded prey­ing sticks of Derek Stepan and Mats Zuc­carello.

MacArthur fired on goal with Bras­sard bat­ting in the ga­me­ty­ing 4-4 re­bound.

Karls­son played all but 1:02 of the fi­nal six and a half min­utes of the third pe­riod - this af­ter leav­ing Game 4 early in some dis­com­fort.

He sur­veyed the ice from be­hind his own goal in OT and then whis­tled a pass off the side­boards to Alex Bur­rows which led to Kyle Tur­ris’ gamewin­ner and 3-2 se­ries edge.

“You know when he’s on the ice, if you get open he’ll prob­a­bly find you,” Stone said.

It’s ev­i­dent that Karls­son, who had six as­sists in the first round while play­ing with two hair­line frac­tures in his foot, still isn’t com­pletely healthy. He’s none­the­less up to 11 points in 11 games this post-sea­son, tops among NHL de­fend­ers.

CP PHOTO

Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors de­fence­man Erik Karls­son (65) cel­e­brates his goal against the New York Rangers with team­mates de­fence­man Marc Methot (3), left wing Mike Hoff­man (68), cen­tre Tommy Win­gels (57), and cen­tre Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) dur­ing Game 1 of a sec­ond-round NHL Stan­ley Cup play­off se­ries in Ot­tawa on April 27.

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