KANATA, Ont. -- Erik Karlsson has been on the radar of every team in the National Hockey League. With the postseason set to begin, the New York Rangers have him in their sights, but the Ottawa Senators defenseman remains as jovial as ever. The 21-year-old has been building toward this moment.
"I remember we were starting in Pittsburgh [two seasons ago], and you could just feel it was a bit different atmosphere in the rink," said Karlsson, who had a goal and six points in the Senators' first-round loss to the Penguins. "It's picking up a bit time by time, and it's definitely an exciting thing to be a part of and I've been waiting for this moment for over a season now."
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With 19 goals and 78 points in 81 games, Karlsson's offensive firepower played a major role in the resurgence of the Senators. The Swede finished the regular season with 59 assists -- tying him with Evgeni Malkin for third in the League, and first among all NHL defensemen. Karlsson realizes he needs to be a contributing factor for his team to achieve success against the Rangers.
"It's going to be a different game than the 82 other games," he said. "I think I have to stick to my game plan and try to play as simple as I've done for this season. I [might have to] pick my spots a little bit more and be consistent for the 60 minutes and even more. But overall I've just got to keep things simple and play the same style as I have. I don't think I have to do anything more or anything less. I just [have to] bring my best and not try to do too much or too little.
"I think the [Rangers] are very hard working team. They played 82 really hard games and they've been competing a lot. A lot of their team is built on skating a lot and finishing checks, and I think we're kind of the same team. We want to be a tough team; we want to be hard to play against. We've got a lot of players in here that have a lot of physicality to bring to the game."
Karlsson is aware that the spotlight is upon him, but insists that he does not feel like a marked man heading into the postseason.
"Obviously teams are going to play hard; it's the playoffs, it's what it's all about," he said. "But we got our system that we want to play and our matchup, and they've got theirs. We can't really worry about what they're going to do. I think we've done enough scouting for now, and we've got to bring our game and stick to it."
Karlsson has also played a key role on special teams for the Sens, who had the NHL's 11th-ranked power play during the regular season, and realizes it needs to be firing on all cylinders by Thursday.
"Our power play has been pretty consistent over the year," Karlsson said. "Obviously we don't score all the time, and lately it's been struggling a bit, but as a group, we feel pretty confident in our power play and we know it can win us games. I think the confidence is still there and it's just a matter of getting the pucks in the back of the net."
The thrill of returning to the playoffs is one thing, but Karlsson is also sparked by the opportunity to play against fellow countryman Henrik Lundqvist. The goaltender's superb year has not gone unnoticed by the defenseman, and a smile came across his face when asked about his chance to best his fellow countryman.
"It's fun to play against someone you know and face him," Karlsson said. "[Lundqvist] has been terrific this year and has had a really good season, and I think everybody's really happy for him, but hopefully it's time for him to go home."