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Pens ready for challenge Karlsson presents

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Pens know how valuable having an elite defenseman is, as we've seen just how important Kris Letang is to their team. The Sens also have an elite defenseman in Erik Karlsson, and Patric Hornqvist said his game is comparable to Letang's - which can help them in this series.

"Those two are both righties, move the puck really well," Hornqvist said following practice on Friday as the Pens prepare to play Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Final. "They're pretty similar players. We know how to play against Tanger so we'll know how to play against Erik."

While Marc-Andre Fleury has been, without question, Pittsburgh's MVP through the first two rounds, Karlsson has been Ottawa's MVP. At just 26 years old, Karlsson is a two-time Norris Trophy winner, a finalist again this year and is shaping up to be a candidate for another award in the Conn Smythe Trophy with how he's performing.

"I feel like every time we play him he stands out," captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think with how many minutes he plays and the way he works their power play and controls the game, I think he's always the guy that stands out when you watch."

Karlsson is both playing a lot and playing through a lot, as he's averaging 28:56 minutes of ice time in this postseason while dealing with two hairline fractures in his left foot.

And he's making the most of those minutes, as Karlsson collected a team-high 13 points (2G 11A) through the first two rounds after scoring 17 goals and 71 points during the regular season.  

"I think just the way he's continually gotten better, you see the minutes that he consistently plays, that's so difficult to do," Crosby said. "Especially when everybody knows you're the guy with the puck and they're trying to finish their hits, trying to do a lot of different things. He's a big part of their team."

Karlsson is someone who, as Justin Schultz put it, is always up in the play and can skate himself and the team out of trouble. The biggest key will be trying to keep Karlsson pinned in his own end and forcing him to play defense. When he does go on the offense, the Pens said it's important to mark him close.

"He makes things happen from nothing back there," Hornqvist said. "We have to make sure we're really hard on him and don't give him time and space. He's such a good skater. He sees the ice really well. That combination is really dangerous. We'll make sure we're in his face and don't give him time and space out there.

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