BOSTON -- It's easy to marvel at Erik Karlsson, the speed and the skating and the vision. It's easy to wonder how he does what he does, how anyone can be that good and that fast and that smart about what to do and when to do it on the ice. The one person who doesn't marvel, though, is Karlsson himself.
He isn't amazed. He isn't impressed.
When asked about it, after his assist led to the only goal in a 1-0 win for the Ottawa Senators against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Wednesday, he shrugged. "It's what I get paid to do," he said.
Technically, yes. Still, it's hard to say that any player should be expected to play quite this well.
So far in this series it has been almost like clockwork. Another game, another otherworldly pass by Karlsson. It was his brilliant pass to Derick Brassard that set up the game-tying goal in Game 2. It was his full-ice saucer pass to Mike Hoffman that led to the first goal of Game 3. It was his shot/pass that was picked up by Bobby Ryan, who scored the only goal of Game 4, giving the Senators a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference First Round series.
"As soon as [Brassard] got some time there, I knew he was going to come to me and I knew Bobby was over there," Karlsson said. "I tried not to oversell it and fake like I was going to shoot it. Luckily he made a really good handle on it and stuck with it and poked it in somehow."
Of course he did.
The Senators have 10 goals in this series. Karlsson has the primary assist on four of them.
"What I like is that Erik has taken all the aspects of a premier player to another level," Senators coach Guy Boucher said. "Yeah, he's always had that offense, he's always had that vision, he's always had that skill, but what he's done this year is that he's used it in the right moments for the right reasons.
"He's had the right leadership since the beginning. It's not just inspiring the guys because he was defending so well and paying the price defensively. It's also managing his offensive game at the right time. And again, that goes back to maturity and it goes back to his buying in."
But as much as Karlsson might be shrugging and passing off the praise and acting like his play is normal, his teammates aren't going to let that slide.
Asked if Karlsson was playing any differently now than usual, forward Zack Smith said, "Superhuman?"
"You watch him throughout the year in the regular season and you see some of the plays that he makes," Smith said. "It's hard to imagine he has another level to his game that you have to take it to in the playoffs, but he does. Some of the plays that he's made so far -- everyone's seen the saucer pass from behind their net last game -- and tonight that pass to Bobby was a pass that very, very few players can make."
Every player tries to elevate his game, Smith said. But few can do it like Karlsson. Few start where he starts in the first place and, from there, few have more they can give.
So, yes, Ryan said, the players are running out of ways to describe their captain.
But even if the words are lacking, the adjectives overused, they're more than happy to keep trying. Because if the Senators keep getting asked the questions, that means that Karlsson is continuing to play at this insane level, playing a way that almost no one else can.
"He's our best player and arguably the best player in the world, so you know every night he's going to break the game open somehow, whether shooting or making plays like he did tonight," Ryan said.
And it's not just that. Equally notable to his pass to Brassard in Game 2 were the words Karlsson expended on Brassard, yelling at his teammates about plays that were unacceptable, specifically Tim Schaller's shorthanded goal in that game.
He is forcing them to examine themselves and their efforts and their play, showing them all that he can and asking almost that much from those around him. He is not easy on himself, nor is he easy on them.
"He expects it every night," Ryan said. "He expects the best out of himself and then he demands the best out of everybody around him."
Thus, his influence can be seen and felt and understood. It makes sense.
"When you've got your top guy buying in like that it'll translate into an entire team wanting to follow," Boucher said. "Him and Dion [Phaneuf] and those guys, [Chris Kelly], they've done an unbelievable job at grabbing everybody and taking them in the same direction.
"To me that's why -- yeah, he's making great plays, but it's way beyond that. This guy has become something else, in every aspect."
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