Erik Karlsson is killing the Bruins. You’ve seen it, you’ve heard it, you’ve said it.
Nothing you read or are told will say this better than Karlsson’s first-period stretch pass to spring Mike Hoffman on a breakaway in Game 3. Or, for that matter, his slap pass to Bobby Ryan from the point in Game 4.
With Boston a game away from elimination, the question becomes how to stop him, or rather, who can stop him. That’s easier said than done when considering that there isn’t a single player in this series who can match Karlsson’s talent. The B’s are also dealing with a number of injuries. Plus, line-matching against a defenseman isn’t exactly easy given the higher minutes they play.
Adding up some numbers from Leftwinglock.com, Karlsson has spent considerable time on the ice against Zdeno Chara: 45.45 percent of his even-strength minutes in Game 1, 59.38 in Game 2, 50.92 in Game 3 and 43.68 in Game 4.
Compared to Chara, Patrice Bergeron didn't play a ton against Karlsson early this series, but has seen an uptick as its progressed. They weren’t matched up at all in Game 1 (they essentially took two shifts against each other), with Karlsson spending 26.56 percent of his even-strength ice time against Bergeron in Game 2. That mark bumped up to 36.83 percent in Game 3 and 36.78 in Game 4.
Now, guess which Bruins forward has played the most against Karlsson. Actually, I’ll save you the half hour of guesses and just tell you: It’s Riley Nash; 30.69 percent of Karlsson’s Game 1 ice time, 32.81 percent in Game 2, 34.91 percent in Game 3 and 21.84 in Game 4.
Nash has survived; of the five points that Karlsson has produced, Nash has only been on for one of them, and that was a special teams goal (Derrick Brassard’s power play tally in Game 2). Karlsson’s Game 4 slap-pass to set up a Bobby Ryan goal came against Boston’s fourth line (Ryan Spooner with Drew Stafford and Frank Vatrano) and the Chara-McAvoy pairing.
Yet it’s also interesting that Bruce Cassidy has seemingly tried to have Bergeron’s line out against Karlsson in Boston’s home games, when they’ve had the last change. That puts Boston’s only top-end line right now in a battle for possession with one of the best players in the game. If the two cancel each other out, Ottawa wins that battle given their superior depth this series. The Bruins don’t really have a dependable scoring line right now after the Bergeron trio.
As the teams head back to Ottawa in what could be a season-ending Game 5 for the Bruins, Boston needs a lot of things to go right. They need to get healthy; getting more defensemen back or seeing David Krejci become his old self would be massive, but neither is assured. They need to convert on chances; scoring three goals apiece in Games 2 and 3 should have been enough for victories, but getting blanked in Game 4 was troubling.
And, of course, they need to find a way to stop Karlsson. Each game this series has been decided by one goal, and Karlsson’s played a role in at least one goal in each of Ottawa’s three wins. Can the Bruins stop him for three straight games? Probably not, but stopping him in one would be a start.