Erik Karlsson missed 31 games after suffering a torn left Achilles tendon, but Thursday night in his return against the Washington Capitals, the Ottawa Senators defenseman looked like he never left.
Karlsson played 27:11 and his presence was vital as the Senators clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 overtime victory.
“Erik shows the difference that he can make and the quality and type of player that he is,” coach Paul MacLean said. “Obviously our team was a different team with him on the ice and the things that he can do that others can’t do. He’s a very special player, and to his credit he was up and running.”
Karlsson felt “OK” about his performance. He had an ice bag on the back of his leg after the game in which he assisted on both Senators goals, but he reported no pain on the ice or immediately after.
“Did battle some issues out there, and didn’t feel quite as comfortable as I used to,” the reigning Norris Trophy winner said. “But overall I think it was a solid game. I still have to work through some mistakes and clean those up.”
A “solid” Karlsson is better than a vast majority of NHL defensemen, and he hopes to gear up for the playoffs in Ottawa’s final two games so that he’s playing at peak performance. What he was Thursday night was an impact player.
“We saw a little bit of what he can bring tonight,” Caps coach Adam Oates said.
Playing 27 shifts for over 27 minutes didn’t bother Karlsson at all.
“Coach has a pretty good idea who to put out there and when to, and it felt good and my conditioning felt well and I think he recognized that and put me out there when it was my time,” he said.
And MacLean never hesitated to put the 22-year-old on the ice. He was rewarded for that trust when Karlsson’s shot was tipped in by Jakob Silfverberg for the Senators’ first goal and when Sergei Gonchar took a pass from the young Swede and blasted a shot past Michal Neuvirth for the overtime winner.
“He was good and he was going,” MacLean said of Karlsson. “The best players play and I thought he was one of the best players.”