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Global Series

Karlsson star of Global Series with Senators

Defenseman says playing back home in Sweden 'one of most special feelings in world'

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

STOCKHOLM -- For a moment, it was as if Ericsson Globe had transformed into Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday, as if a game in Stockholm was being played in Ottawa. 

Erik Karlsson had just set up Mark Stone for a goal, with a pass that might have qualified as ho-hum if one considered the source, but it sparked the crowd, tying the game 42 seconds after the Colorado Avalanche had taken the lead at 8:34 of the second period. They stood and cheered and rocked for their favorite son, come home to play hockey.

It meant something to them. It meant something to him too.

"That's what we grew up dreaming about, is playing in front of the people here in this country," the Senators captain said. "To be able to come back and repay that a little bit and get the response that you do and they show that they still really care and follow you over there and they know who you are, it's something that it's hard to explain for anybody who doesn't come from here, growing up playing hockey in Sweden. I think it's one of the most special feelings in the world."

Video: Global Series: Stone buries Karlsson's great dish

If anything was made clear over a week in Sweden, it was that Karlsson is the one here. It was why teammate Fredrik Claesson kept insisting that he believed Ericsson Globe would be filled with more Senators fans than Avalanche fans during the two 2017 SAP NHL Global Series games.

Because of Karlsson.

They have cheered no other player so loudly, not even Stockholm native Gabriel Landeskog.

The only people whose receptions have matched those of Karlsson are no longer playing: Peter Forsberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidstrom.

They are legends. It's what Karlsson is on his way to becoming.

"He's the best defenseman in the world, and this is his country," Senators coach Guy Boucher said. "This is a proud country, this is a hockey country. They've had a lot of great players over the years. He's certainly right up there with those big names already at a young age. He deserves to be there."

Video: Karlsson speaks in Swedish during NHL Global Series

The assist was the 27-year-old's second of the night, his fourth of the two games in Sweden, and helped the Senators come from behind for their second consecutive 4-3 win, this one in regulation.

It wasn't all good for the Swedish star. There also was the miscue on a first-period power play -- a pinch that backfired -- that led to a shorthanded goal by Blake Comeau on a breakaway at 13:13.

But he more than made up for that by the end.

He was Erik Karlsson, the player who led Ottawa to within a whisper of the Stanley Cup Final last spring, performing in his country, in front of his fans, for his NHL team.

"The guy, he just does the right thing like 95 percent of the time," his newest teammate, Matt Duchene, gushed after the game. "Even when he makes simple plays, they end up in the net. He's just got a knack. It's unbelievable. The play he made to [Stone] was an outstanding play. It's been fun watching him play, and I'm excited to be his teammate."

Video: Dan Rosen and Amalie Benjamin recap

But it wasn't just on the ice, the four assists and the play that went along with that. It was the adulation, the reverence that the country has for Karlsson. It embraced him, and he embraced it, even if the Senators and Avalanche weren't playing in his parts of the country - Landsbro, where he's from, or Gothenburg, where he lives.

This was Stockholm, which belongs to Landeskog and Claesson, to Johnny Oduya and Patrik Nemeth.

But really it belongs to Karlsson. 

It was a week that, as the Senators defenseman said, "exceeded my expectations of how it was really going to be."

It could scarcely have gone better for him, with the points, with the two wins in two games, with the love of everyone.

His teammates and his coach might have already known how much Karlsson meant to Sweden. But, over this week, they got to see it firsthand. They got to experience it. And even though they might not have learned anything about Karlsson that they didn't know before, they felt it anew. They lived it. 

"He's become a winner, he's become a leader, and they should be proud of him," Boucher said. "The enthusiasm that people have looking at him, he's definitely become a role model, on ice and off ice. He deserves it."

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