By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With just a few crucial plays, Erik Karlsson showed the Bruins why he’s the most dangerous player on the ice.
Yes, it helps Karlsson and the Senators that the Bruins were down three of their top six defensemen in Game 3 on Monday night. It also helps that Karlsson continues to play heavy minutes against the likes of Dominic Moore and Riley Nash, while Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have largely come up short offensively. But as long as the Bruins’ best players aren’t getting it going on offense, Karlsson will continue to be easily the most dynamic player in the series.
It took nearly six full periods of game time for Karlsson to truly make his presence felt in Game 2 on Saturday. But when he carried the puck from east to west to draw the eyes of the entire Bruins team his way and made a perfect cross-ice pass back in the other direction to a wide-open Derick Brassard for the one-timer to tie Game 2, jaws dropped. Caps were tipped.
Karlsson is one of the most offensively gifted players in the National Hockey League, regardless of position. The Senators captain will never be as dominant in his own end as he is with the puck on his stick, but he has nonetheless committed more to his defensive game in recent years, culminating this season with a league-leading 201 blocked shots.
Having to block the puck a lot isn’t necessarily ideal for a defenseman in his own end, but it’s a far cry from the glorified winger that Karlsson was when he entered the league. Perhaps most importantly, he’s turning a lot of those blocked shots into quicker breakout passes to his teammates. In the case of a player like Karlsson, the best defense is a good offense.
Karlsson made another show-stopping pass during the first period of Game 3, which stood as one of the Bruins’ worst periods of the season. The B’s couldn’t get much going in any area of the ice in that period – but on the Sens’ first goal, there really wasn’t much they could do about Karlsson.
“Hail Mary” doesn’t do justice to Karlsson’s incredible deep touch-pass to a streaking Mike Hoffman, who had gotten behind the Bruins defense by about 25 feet. Karlsson wasn’t just chucking the puck in the air with a prayer; he knew exactly what he was doing. Few players in the league would have the vision to see this play developing like it did, and even fewer could make this pass from his own goal line like Karlsson did.
Hoffman’s goal to put the Sens up 1-0 was one where you would have liked to see Tuukka Rask come up with the big save, but credit is due to Hoffman for making a video-game deke of his own. But still, this pass:
Karlsson also played a key role in the Senators’ second goal of the game, when he kept the puck alive in the offensive zone and threaded it between David Backes’ legs to pass it down low. Then the Sens took advantage of the Bruins’ depleted defense from there, with Tommy Cross and John-Michael Liles assuming responsibility for defending the play:
Finally, Karlsson made the Sens’ game-winning goal in overtime possible with yet another eye-popping pass. It helped that Dominic Moore inexplicably chased him behind the net, but the rest of the Bruins’ penalty kill couldn’t do much about this laser of a pass to Bobby Ryan, who eventually buried the game-winner.
When controlling the puck, Karlsson sees the game a step ahead of everyone else on the ice. His combination of instincts, skills, and improved defense has led him to emerge as one of the most dynamic threats in the NHL. Until the Bruins’ top-end talent starts to match his ability to control the game with the puck on his stick, Karlsson will continue to dominate the series.
And with the Bruins as banged up as they are right now, a player like Karlsson will be nearly impossible to stop.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.