OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators defenseman Matt Carkner may have been the last player predicted to be a playoff catalyst, but the blueliner quickly has become a game-changer in this Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series between the Sens and the New York Rangers.
"He played great. He was [really] active pinching, and what he did Game 2 to change the momentum in the series and to come back in and play the way he played [Wednesday], I think the guys are really happy to see him have some success and hopefully it'll keep going," Jason Spezza said.
Added coach Paul MacLean: "Matt is a team player; everything he does is for the team, and that's why he's been a factor."
Carkner remains humble about his role in the team's success, as the series sits tied at 2-2. His fracas with Brian Boyle at the beginning of Game 2 led to a one-game suspension, but the Sens credited Carkner for lighting the fuse to an eventual 3-2 victory. On Wednesday, Carkner had just finished serving a hooking penalty at 6:55 of the second when he saw Milan Michalek heading toward the Rangers' zone. The defenseman hopped out of the box, gained control of the puck and passed to Michalek, who scored at 7:04.
"I've been pretty fortunate," Carkner said. "[In Game 2] it was 39 seconds [of ice time]; it was something that's part of my game. I kind of know when to do those kinds of things. And in [Game 4] I was fortunate that I was in the box -- the puck just kind of came to me.
"It was neat to watch it on the replay. I look like I stuttered a bit when I came out of the box, but the puck came up and I just slammed on the brakes, and [Michalek] was skating hard down the wing. He made a great play."
Carkner maintains that while he's been lucky, any player can become the headline maker in the postseason.
"Playoffs are totally different," he said. "Every play is so much more intense and more important. Each game there's a different guy stepping up, and that's why I like our group. Everyone is competing, trying to claw their way to the net, and any given night, anyone can be the hero."
At the same time, the entire experience has been gratifying for the defenseman. Carkner played in only 29 regular-season games -- he missed the first 24 games while recovering from knee surgery, and was a healthy scratch for an additional 24 games.
"It's great," Carkner said. "Throughout the year I've been a scratch here and there, and I've just tried to keep myself in shape and ready for those opportunities. I was fortunate enough to get into the lineup again in [Game 4]. I just wanted to keep it simple.
"It's not an easy thing to go through. It's the first time in my career that I've been a healthy scratch multiple games in a row. I just had to learn how to deal with that and get over it, and the good thing was that we had a great group of guys in here helping me out with that. It's a tough situation to be in, but I just had to stay positive so I could be ready when they needed me."
Carkner admitted that the series with the Rangers has been hard-fought on both sides, but that Ottawa could benefit from the lift of Game 4. As the Sens head into what has become a best-of-three starting with Game 5 Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC), the defenseman intends to keep helping out any way he can.
"It's been pretty tight the whole way through, so hopefully we're going to carry the momentum from Game 4 into [Game 5]," he said. "It's been a battle; we're trying to inch our way to the net and [Rangers goalie Henrik] Lundqvist has been playing great. I think so far it's been pretty even, but I think if we keep doing what we can do, we can come through."