Erik Karlsson has four assists in three games this series. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
If there’s a big goal scored by the Senators in this series, there’s a good chance that it’s been created by the wizardry of Erik Karlsson.
Karlsson danced through the attacking zone before he fed Derick Brassard for the game-tying goal in what finished an Ottawa overtime win in Game 2. Karlsson helped the Sens jump out to a lead in the first period of Game 3 when he hit Mike Hoffman with a Hail Mary pass. He danced around three B’s forwards to keep the puck in the attacking zone for the second Sens goal of that game, and helped create the overtime winner when Dominic Moore gave chase to him behind the net and created all the space in the world for Karlsson to operate.
A minute-eater that’s led the Sens in time on ice in both of their wins this series and has four helpers in three games thus far, it’s been just as hard for the Bruins to avoid Karlsson as it’s been to contain him.
“He’s an elite player, he plays half the game, so he’s going to do damage,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Karlsson. “You gotta limit the damage. He’s a dynamic player. Coming from the backend, everything is front of him and he can beat you up ice. So there’s a lot of ways he can beat you and we need to do a better job neutralizing him.”
Neutralizing him would be a start, but as the Bruins can attest, it’s also much easier said than done.
“His speed,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand said (and without a second’s hesitation) when asked about Karlsson’s dynamic skillset and the challenges it can bring to the Black and Gold. “He’s able to jump by everyone, get up and be the first on the forecheck and be the first on the backcheck, so his speed is a very special thing.”
It seemed in the past that the Bruins had to just worry about Karlsson burning them in the attacking zone. That’s where they could simply stick a Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara combo out there and try to erase that. But under Sens coach Guy Boucher, and even before that as Karlsson has progressed over the years, the plays have started in the defensive zone, where Karlsson has made his high-risk plays almost automatic positives for his club, like he did on the aforementioned Hoffman goal in Game 3.
In the blink of an eye, with his skates, stick, or with his mind, Karlsson can send numbers the other way.
“He’s equally as good now on both sides of the ice. And his leadership, people talk about his leadership the previous game because he got a little loud on one of the goals. But his leadership [Monday] was right on and he was very calm after the other team tied the game,” Boucher said. “He was very calm between the second and third and you saw his calm play calmed everybody down also on the ice. But to tell you I’m impressed – after awhile you kind of get used to it. It’s pretty sad but, that’s how it is. He’s just that good. I’ve seen him do it in practice, I’ve seen him do it in games. He’s a game breaker.”
“Chasing the puck out of his hands, good angles, good stick to puck, be physical when you can — always easier said than done with any good player. It’s always the strategy for a lot of guys,” Cassidy said when asked how the B’s can stop Karlsson. “But knowing where he is on the ice and pushing him to the outside and taking good angles, I think we’re capable of that.”
The truth, however, is that the Bruins have given Karlsson entirely too much space all over the ice.
The Bruins know that, too, and you saw them attempt to address that with some hard finishes on Karlsson along the boards. That’s by design, too, as Karlsson entered this series at less than 100 percent healthwise. It’s a barbaric strategy. But one that’s been deployed by the Senators as well, as you can tell by their clear-as-day efforts to hammer a battered Boston defense corps at every stop and turn, and one that may be the B’s only hope when it comes to slowing the Ottawa captain down before it’s too late.
“Be physical with him. He came off an injury. Within the rules of the game, make him work through your body to get up ice,” Cassidy, whose team has 124 hits through three playoff games, offered. “That makes it a lot easier, and it makes it tougher on him over the course of two weeks. He might get away with it for one game, but you keep being heavy on him and it can wear on him.”
But it’s hard to hit what you can’t catch, and Cassidy would be the first to admit that through the first three games of this one.
“It’s just.. it’s not that easy at times,” Cassidy said.