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Erik Karlsson needs to provide Senators with spark in Game 6 vs. Penguins

Defenseman must be at his best to help Ottawa avoid elimination

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson wasn't wearing anything on his left foot other than his team-issued sandal as he stood in front of his stall inside the dressing room talking to reporters for 10 minutes Tuesday morning.

At one point, about five minutes into his media scrum, Karlsson lifted his left leg and put his foot up on the bench behind him, but that looked more like it was for comfort than anything else.

Otherwise there was nothing that would indicate that the Senators' All-Star defenseman was dealing with an injury going into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Canadian Tire Centre (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It's not going to be anything different from any of the other games," Karlsson said.

We know Karlsson has been playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel because he admitted as much after the Senators eliminated the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Video: Will the Senators bounce back in Game 6?

We also know he didn't play the final 25:55 of Game 5 against the Penguins on Sunday or in the third period of Game 4 against the New York Rangers in the second round because he and the team felt playing it safe was the best course of action considering Ottawa was getting blown out in each game.

We also know that Karlsson will play in Game 6, a must-win game for the Senators, who trail the best-of-7 series 3-2.

What we don't know is how healthy he really is, or if he's limited in any way.

When asked if he re-aggravated his injury during Game 5, Karlsson responded, "No."

When asked if he's limited in any way on the ice because of an injury, he responded, "No, not really."

If Karlsson is in the lineup the Senators have to presume he's capable of playing his normal role. That means he'll be on the ice for roughly half the game and making key plays to get the offense moving, to create scoring chances and goals.

He has not done that consistently the past two games, and not coincidentally, the Senators have lost each, 3-2 in Game 4 and 7-0 in Game 5.

Karlsson has two points, both assists, in five games against the Penguins. He had 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in the Senators' first 12 games, six points, all assists, against the Bruins and seven points (two goals, five assists) against the Rangers.

Video: OTT@NYR, Gm6: Karlsson buries Ryan's slick dish

While obviously it would help, Karlsson can't blame the power play for his lack of production. Ottawa hasn't scored a power-play goal in the past 10 games, going 0-for-29, but Karlsson still had seven even-strength points against New York.

He just hasn't produced the same way against the Penguins.

"I think that this series has been different from the other two," Karlsson said. "We've been needing different things from different guys. They've done a good job in their part, that's why they're up 3-2. We've done some good parts as well. You don't have to do anything spectacular to win games. What's happened in the past is in the past. Today we're going to go out there and everybody is going to try individually and as a team to play as good a game as possible."

Coach Guy Boucher indicated Karlsson has been limited in what he's capable of doing offensively because the Senators have limited their chances with turnovers in the defensive zone or just bad breakouts in general.

That particularly was evident during Game 5, when the Penguins scored their four even-strength goals after the Senators turned the puck over in its zone.

"If we give them the puck on turnovers constantly they're going to be in your zone for a minute, minute and a half, and then they wear you down," Boucher said. "I know Erik looks like Superman sometimes because he can play a lot of minutes, but he's not. He's like everybody else. At some point when you have to defend constantly because you've given the puck back to the opponent, it's not about space, it's about energy and you've lost the energy to go through space when you have that space. Him, like our other players, we have to limit that. If we limit that we give ourselves a chance. If we continue to do that, well, we give them momentum, space, energy, enthusiasm and everything they need to be themselves."

Ironically Karlsson, even if he's playing hobbled, needs all of those things to be himself.

He had them during the first two rounds of the postseason and at the start of the conference final. He hasn't looked like himself the past two games because he hasn't had momentum, space, energy and enthusiasm.

Video: OTT@BOS, GM 4: Ryan nets Karlsson's perfect pass

The Senators go as he goes, so they need to help him get it all back in Game 6 or there won't be a Game 7.

"We're going to do everything we can to play the game we want, and if we do that we're going to have a good chance," Karlsson said. "Now it's just a matter of executing at the right time, and tonight is the right time."

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