It’s often said that the best players come to play in the biggest games. The true stars of the game perform in the biggest moments. Erik Karlsson is more than just one of the best players, he is a transcendent talent. For the last two games now, he’s reminded us of this fact in so many different and amazing ways that it almost beggars belief. The Boston Bruins are a very good hockey team, but the Ottawa Senators have Erik Karlsson. Tonight, that was enough. Barely.
Karlsson gave us a first glimpse of what was to come less than five minutes into the game when he made a brilliant play to keep the puck in at the point and find Ryan Dzingel wide open at the side of the net. Dzingel could have perhaps done more to get the puck up, but an incredible sprawling save was still required from Tuukka Rask to keep the game scoreless. Mere minutes later, however, we were treated to one of the most beautiful goals in Ottawa Senators Play-off history:
I could go on for pages at a time describing this goal, it was that good. Needless to say the pass from Karlsson is incredible but the clean reception and finish by Mike Hoffman was no less impressive. If Erik Karlsson is a transcendent player, Hoffman is at the very least a very good one and very good players also rise to the occasion. Hoffman was fantastic in this game and easily the Sens’ second best player.
Less than a minute later, Karlsson made another fantastic play to start a sequence that ended with Derick Brassard wristing a shot past Rask from in close. The Sens were firing on all cylinders and truthfully things could not have gone much better in the first period. David Backes put one off the crossbar off a rush, but that was really the only chance the Bruins mustered. Shots were 11-3 for the good guys through one.
The second period continued much as the first had ended and Hoffman again bulged the twine, this time on the power play. Ottawa’s power play has often been accused of being too predictable but the puck movement preceding this Hoffman rocket was pristine:
It was 3-0, and life was good. Boston seemed to have no answer for the Sens strong puck movement in the offensive end, Karlsson had achieved a higher consciousness, and the #System was in full effect. What could go wrong?
Well, lots as it turns out. Three Bruins goals in rapid succession:
If you've subjected yourself to Ottawa Senators fandom for long enough, you know these things are never easy. As the teams headed to the third deadlocked at three, you could have cut the tension in the air.
The third was extremely tame by the standards of the forty minutes that had come before. Hoffman rang one off the bar on a one-timer from the high slot and Craig Anderson somewhat redeemed himself with a spectacular save on David Krejci with just less than ten minutes to go. Anderson wasn't quite himself tonight, but he was good enough and that save would prove crucial in giving the Sens a chance to win.
At the beginning of this article, I said that the best players make the biggest plays at the most crucial moments. As if Karlsson hadn't done enough to this point, he jump-started a Bobby Ryan overtime winner as a Sens power play was drawing to its end. The give-and-go from Ryan to Kyle Turris was great, but none of it happens without Karlsson first losing the Bruins' fore-checker then hitting Ryan in stride at the far blue line. Savor this, friends:
Special players make special plays. Thank God for Erik Karlsson, because this was beginning to look a lot like the one that got away.
Sens Hero: Erik Karlsson
The captain was easily the best player on the ice for either team. Boston, a team with Patrice Bergeron on it, has no answer for Karlsson. It's been something to behold
Sens Hero: Mike Hoffman
If not for Erik Karlsson, this would have been Hoffman's play-off coming out party. Two goals and terrific offensive play throughout will more than do.
Sens Hero: Bobby Ryan
If the B's had come all the way back to win that game after Ryan's gaffe on the second goal, I'm not sure we would have ever heard the end of it. Instead, we're celebrating the Sens' leading scorer in the play-offs.
(Ottawa was clearly the better team in the first, struggled a bit in the second and played the third to a tie.)