OTTAWA -- If the Ottawa Senators have any hope of regaining a foothold in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they need their defense, specifically Erik Karlsson, to spring to life.
Karlsson logged 15:37 of ice time during the Senators' 4-3, Game 2 loss to the Penguins on Friday, an all-time Stanley Cup Playoff low for the Swede. With Ottawa down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, and Game 3 Sunday at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS), the Norris Trophy winner knows he has to step up.
"I'm not playing the way I want to," Karlsson said. "I [have to] play a little bit more poised with the puck and a little bit faster in our own zone. I can't doubt myself."
After Karlsson had his left Achilles tendon sliced by Penguins forward Matt Cooke's skate Feb. 13, few thought the defenseman would return this season. However, Karlsson made a quicker-than-expected recovery, healing in 10 weeks and suiting up for the Senators on April 25.
As Ottawa's quarterfinal series against the Montreal Canadiens progressed, Karlsson's game didn't appear to be at full strength, causing some to wonder if the 22-year-old returned prematurely.
Game 2 against the Penguins started on a poor note for Karlsson. On his first shift, he skated behind the net to retrieve the puck then whiffed on the play. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby gained control and easily deked past Karlsson on his way to the net. On the Penguins' first goal of the night, Crosby again zipped past Karlsson for his first of three goals.
Asked after the game what happened during that play, Karlsson was blunt: "Are you blind?"
After an optional practice Saturday, Karlsson hedged on whether the problems were due to physical issues or if he was rusty from his absence.
"I don't really know what it is," Karlsson said. "It's a tough game out there. Right now I don't think anyone is making me play [badly]. I think it's more [about] not doing the things I normally do, and maybe overthinking too often.
"Physically, I feel great. I move around fine [off the ice]. I have no problems with anything I do. It's just a matter of trusting in myself and believing I can play almost the same way I did before I got hurt. I think right now, my timing isn't right. I have to stick to the decisions I make, even if it's the wrong one. I don't really trust what I'm doing out there. [Sunday], I'm just going to go out there and play my game."