For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Jim Corsi to break down the action from the Senators' perspective. Corsi will be checking in throughout the series.
Corsi, 62, is the former goaltending coach for the Buffalo Sabres (2001-14) and St. Louis Blues (2014-17). He also played 26 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1979-80 season.
PITTSBURGH -- The Ottawa Senators should feel good about their chances to advance to the Stanley Cup Final because they have Erik Karlsson and the Pittsburgh Penguins do not.
The flip side, of course, is the Penguins have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and the Senators do not, but former NHL goaltending coach Jim Corsi said Karlsson has the ability to turn Pittsburgh from a team that plays on its toes most of the time, a team that pushes and attacks through the neutral zone, into a team that has no choice but to play on its heels.
That, more than anything from Ottawa's perspective, could be the great equalizer in the Eastern Conference Final.
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Karlsson did that to the Boston Bruins in the first round and the New York Rangers in the second round. If he can do it to the Penguins, starting with Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports), the Senators could wind up playing for the Stanley Cup.
"If you have a defenseman who can move the puck and get it into the hands of the forwards as quickly as possible, that's a dangerous thing," Corsi said. "If you have a defenseman who can move the puck and join the offense the way Karlsson does, that keeps the opposition's offense thinking. There's a little bit of tentativeness there."
Senators coach Guy Boucher said he won't be too concerned about matchups, at least not at the start of the series, but Karlsson should see plenty of ice time against Crosby and against Malkin.
That theoretically should put the Senators in a good position to limit each.
"That's the beauty of having a guy like Karlsson, he's a guy that's behind the front three guys, so the strategy would be basically get the puck into the neutral zone and get it into Karlsson's hands as quickly as possible," Corsi said. "Suddenly, the guys that are playing on their toes going one way, they have to question, 'Do we play with reckless abandon, or do we play a more defensive game?' The guys that police the forwards are defensemen, but in Karlsson's case he's like a forward, and it puts a lot of pressure on the opposition.
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"The defending for Ottawa will be group defense and trying not to get caught in counters. That's where offensive teams have great success, and it's what Boucher has really managed to limit. Then you have a guy like Karlsson getting you out of the zone and he's like a first-line center."
And Pittsburgh might be forced to give him space because when the Ottawa system works with Karlsson, the forwards know they can blow out of the zone quickly.
"If you're playing offense and you don't have the puck, Karlsson can free you up with a clever pass with the vision that he has or the speed that he has in his skating," Corsi said. "Pittsburgh can't just allow for that."
Beyond Karlsson as an obvious reason, Corsi doesn't buy into the theory that the Senators are underdogs in the conference final.
He knows the records (Pittsburgh had 111 points; Ottawa had 98) and the experience (Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup last season; Ottawa hasn't reached the conference final since 2007) each fall on the Penguins' side, but he doesn't think the regular season and history tell the story of the Senators in their current state.
"We establish a long series of what you can call interpretations based on an 82-game season, but for Ottawa you have the return of Clarke MacArthur, the growth of Craig Anderson, the surprise arrival of Jean-Gabriel Pageau," Corsi said. "If you are going to give credit based on the regular season, then Washington and Chicago should be in the Stanley Cup Final, and we wouldn't be talking about Ottawa.
"If you go for dinner, no one cares who the chef is; they just want to make sure that the meal is going to be good. What goes on in the kitchen for the past 82 games is what brought the Senators to the table. Underdog, it's a romantic way of putting things into perspective, but I think this is a great, even battle."