OTTAWA - Erik Karlsson will need a surge of support in the final days of voting to overtake Phil Kessel as the people’s most popular choice to play in the Jan. 29 all-star game.
From his performance on the last two nights of 2011, he just might get it.
Karlsson made both offensive and defensive plays as good as they get that helped the Senators to a pair of come-from-behind victories in back-to-back games that extended beyond regulation time.
His tying goal in the third period against Calgary Thursday was nothing short of spectacular, beginning with the deft interception of a Flames rush in the neutral zone that led to his own stupendous wraparound goal. Then, on New Year’s Eve in Buffalo, the best of his defensive gems was an amazing burst of speed that saw him track down Jason Pominville on a breakaway.
Safe to say no other player in the league would have caught the Sabres captain.
“I knew at their blue line,” Karlsson said slyly when asked if he seriously thought he could make up the considerable head start. “I knew I had him.”
Karlsson, meanwhile, was a gatling gun on the attack. Remarkably, he fired 18 shots at the Sabres goal — 10 on net that were just two shy of the franchise record, plus four more that were blocked and four that went wide. The night before, he pulled the trigger 16 times, including eight for shots on the Flames net.
Karlsson, who leads all defencemen in all-star voting but trailed the Leafs’ Kessel by about 7,000 at last count, will have one more game to influence before Tuesday’s deadline. Not that it’s his top priority. He and the rest of the Senators are currently focused on doing what they’re doing as a team — which is shocking all those who picked them for last this season.
Nearing the halfway mark of the schedule, the Senators have a 19-15-5 record for 43 points, putting them in the eighth and final playoff spot.
They’re also just three points out of fifth.
“There’s a lot of character in here,” Bobby Butler, who scored the shootout winner Saturday, said in the Senators dressing room. “We’ve grown as a team. It shows by the last two games.”
And the last two games have been indicative of the never-say-die attitude that has made Ottawa the top scoring third-period team in the NHL.
“People don’t leave our games early,” coach Paul MacLean told a friend in Buffalo.
Not unless they have a heart condition.
The Senators are proud of their reputation as Cardiac Kids. They know it speaks to their character.
“I think everybody feels great here, we’ve felt great the whole season long,” said Karlsson, the league’s top scoring defencemen and second among all players in assists. “The plan on everybody’s condition has been really good. The further we go in the season, the better everybody is going to get. Just a good feeling in the room everytime we come off the ice for intermission.
“I think we never quit, we always stick to it. We know if we do that we’re going to end up doing great things and come away with points.”
Said MacLean: “You’ve got to keep playing, we’ve tried to instill that from the first day of training camp. We want to be a team that can compete for 60 or 65 minutes. However long it takes. We want to make sure we’re there and playing hard. Things aren’t always going to go our way, but we have to be able to respond to adversity, play the game and play it hard.”
Ending 2011 on a high was a goal they accomplished with hard work and a defiance of the bad luck that saw them hit six goalposts against the Sabre.
“It’s always good to win on New Year’s, to feel good about the way the year ended and look forward to a new year,” said MacLean. “It’s an exciting night for us.”