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NHL 100 Classic

Karlsson seems to be finding rhythm for Senators

Defenseman dances on bench, helps defeat Canadiens in NHL100 Classic

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- Erik Karlsson wasn't sure what to call it. The Frostbite Frenzy? The Wintry Waltz? The Bitter Cold Bop?

Try as he might, the Ottawa Senators defenseman could not come up with a name for the impromptu dance he was doing on the bench midway through the third period of the 2017 Scotiabank NHL100 Classic at Lansdowne Park on Saturday.

"I saw him doing that," said forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored the winning goal in the Senators' 3-0 victory against the Montreal Canadiens. "I thought maybe he was just bopping around to keep warm."

 

[RELATED: Anderson, Senators shut out Canadiens in NHL100 Classic | Complete NHL100 Classic coverage]

 

Indeed, on a bone-chilling night and with a temperature of 12.5 degrees Fahrenheit at game time, it would be logical to think Karlsson would do whatever he could to keep his tootsies toasty.

But that wasn't the case.

"No, nothing like that. I was just having fun, man," the Senators captain said with a grin. "I was just going along with the music and making the most of the moment. 

"The entire experience was awesome."

So was Karlsson's game.

Video: MTL@OTT: Karlsson discusses the Senators' 3-0 win

He set NHL regular-season outdoor game records for ice time (32:55) and blocked shots (eight), many of which he said left him with a stinging sensation in the frigid conditions.

Karlsson also was the architect of the key play. His pass from the point was deflected by Pageau past Carey Price at 14:55 of the second period to make it 1-0.

"It was a planned play," Karlsson said. "I actually was aiming for [Zack Smith] but [Pageau] got his stick on it. It ended up working out well."

With the Senators nursing that precarious 1-0 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third period, Ottawa coach Guy Boucher looked down his bench and broke into a big grin at the sight of Karlsson. There was his captain grooving to the music blaring over the PA system, tapping his hands on his knees as if he were playing the drums, then pointing at his teammates beside him and at the fans beyond the glass.

"When our captain has his swagger going like that, we feed off of it," Boucher said. "He was just so in tune with everything that was going on, both on and off the ice."

Video: MTL@OTT: Karlsson showcases his dance moves on bench

Goals by Bobby Ryan and Nate Thompson in the final 2:58 sealed the game for the Senators. Then, as the Ottawa players stood at center ice and saluted the 33,959 fans who had braved the weather to form the backdrop of a magnificent spectacle, Karlsson was announced as the First Star of the game.

And rightly so.

Six months ago, half of Karlsson's left ankle bone was removed during surgery to repair torn tendons in his foot. He missed all of training camp recovering, a process that has lasted almost three months into the season.

Boucher said last week that Karlsson was not back at full strength. The coach had a different take after the game Saturday.

"That was Erik Karlsson at 100 percent," Boucher said. "When he plays defense like that, his offense just comes naturally.

"People just figured he would come back from his surgery and pick up where he left off like he was Superman. But he's not. These things take time. 

"But man, he was the Erik Karlsson we've been accustomed to seeing out there tonight, wasn't he?"

 

[RELATED: Pageau breaks ice for Senators at chilly NHL100 Classic | Canadiens disappointed with effort in NHL100 Classic]

 

In the Senators dressing room, Karlsson took time to reflect on everything that has happened in the past six months. His surgery. A slow start by the Senators, who entered the game with 27 points in 30 games (10-13-7). And speculation about his pending free agency in 2019.

None of this appeared to be bothering him. The Senators have won two in a row and he seems to be rediscovering his game (he has three assists in the past six games). 

"How could you not enjoy yourself?" said Karlsson, who has 20 points (one goal, 19 assists) in 26 games. "It was great. The turnout was better than we expected, the fans stayed from before warmup to the end of the game, and we appreciate that a lot. I think that made us more excited. 

"During commercial breaks, you just wanted to absorb the experience. We love playing in the city. Why wouldn't you? You'd look up in the stands and the fans were dancing and having a great time."

Just like Karlsson.

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