It is no secret that Erik Karlsson is one of the best defenseman in the league. He has consistently put up 65+ point seasons; won two Norris Trophies; and is currently the leader pushing the Ottawa Senators beyond expectations on their Cinderella run. But now, backs against the wall, the Senators desperately need their Hercules to dig deeper. He is being asked to find more inside of him to stave off elimination. Ottawa needs their ailing captain to elevate his game even higher. If anyone can do it, it is Erik Karlsson.
Do or Die for Ottawa Senators Means Erik Karlsson Needed Most
The Ottawa Senators have already reached beyond all expectations this season. At the start of the season, very few had Ottawa winning a playoff series let alone getting into the Conference Finals, two wins away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance. The Senators were a middle-of-the-road team that many could even see missing the playoffs. What has happened now is quite the opposite. The Sens are in a competitive series with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and are headed home for a crucial game six to keep their unimaginable season alive.
These playoffs, the Senators have grinded and fought to get to where they are. Bobby Ryan has been an overtime hero, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau has seen breakout games, including a four goal performance early in their series against the New York Rangers. Craig Anderson, up until Sunday’s game, had been posting unreal numbers with a save percentage over .925 and a goals against average of just over 2.00. Recently those numbers have changed, and the celebration and comfort of Sens fans has halted. The Senators lost a crucial Game 5 Sunday night by an embarrassing score of 7-0. Anderson was relieved of his duties early and Ryan, Pageau, and the rest of the dynamic offense we have seen failed to emerge.
Even Karlsson was held at bay and exited the game due to injury. But facing a must win, it’s hard to believe that Karlsson will go down easy. It’s hard to believe that the future Hall of Fame player already battling injury will not dig down and find one more ounce of magic to keep his Cinderella squad dancing.
Karlsson has been the leader of the Senators all playoffs inside and outside of the stat sheet. He leads the team in points and ranks among the top 8 of all players in the playoffs. His 13 assists are second among all players this postseason, his plus/minus rating is in the top five, and his time on ice per game is ranked first among all remaining players.
The numbers don’t lie. Karlsson is electric. He is the offensive stud everyone expects. He has also been excellent defensively. Karlsson has constantly shut down the other’s teams top players; made saucy passes to set up goals; and led the team in an understated way. Karlsson can be seen every game visibly and audibly directing and coaching his team from the bench and while on the ice. His passion, toughness, as well as desire manifest in his constant all out effort and playing through injury. He has fully embodied the role of captain of his team. Now facing elimination, Karlsson is asked to do even more.
Has all the magic run dry in Ottawa? Or will Erik Karlsson once again show why he is one of the best and most resilient players in this league? The Senators are going back home for Game 6 to eager fans ready for the unimaginable: a chance to play a Game 7 against the reigning champs to seal a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. To get there, the Senators will first have to win on Tuesday night. Coming off of an abysmal performance, this will not be a small task. The Sens need a lot. They need better goaltending, they need better offense, and they need a spark. Karlsson is that spark. His leadership will be critical as the team that does not belong will need a monumental performance against the experienced winners.
Chances are Karlsson still has more in him. The Senators have never needed it more than now. Karlsson will keep bringing his leadership and energy because it is what he knows how to do. Whether he scores a goal on the power play, manufactures some assists, or is a defensive pest with cruel physicality, taking the body and stick checking, Karlsson will not roll over. Karlsson will play and play well because that is what his team needs. That is what he has done all postseason.