Erik Karlsson was the most dominant player in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. He was an absolute force at both ends of the rink, putting up team-leading offensive numbers while creating one highlight-reel play after another, blocking shots and logging an absurd amount of ice time—everything you would expect and more from your captain. What makes his ridiculous performance even more insane, though, is the fact that he's apparently been playing on one foot.
After eliminating the Boston Bruins in Game 6 on Sunday, the first series win for the Senators since 2013 and just their second since 2007, Karlsson told ESPN that he's been playing with a broken foot for the entirety of the series. The Senators captain said that he's been skating through two hairline fractures in his left heel, which he sustained when blocking a shot on March 28 against Philadelphia. He missed three of his team's final five regular-season games, but played in back-to-back contests against Detroit on March 3 and March 4, when he reportedly aggravated the injury.
Karlsson admitted he was playing through the pain with the assistance of injections, and that he was having some difficulty moving and shifting to his left. Watching this guy dominate for six straight games, though, it's utterly terrifying to imagine the kind of series the elite skater would've had on two healthy feet.
Karlsson looked like his two-time Norris trophy-winning self right from the start, playing over 24 minutes and picking up an assist in the Senators' Game 1 loss. In Games 2 and 3, Karlsson played over 61 minutes combined and had two more assists as Ottawa won back-to-back overtime games. Game 4 saw the Senators take a 3-1 stranglehold on the series, with Karlsson playing nearly 25 minutes and picking up another apple on Bobby Ryan's game-winning goal. During the only game in which he did not pick up a point, Karlsson logged a playoff-high 41:51 TOI in Ottawa's double overtime loss in Game 5, and came back less than 48 hours later to deliver a clutch Game 6 performance on the road, where he played just under 30 minutes and had a helper on Ryan's game-tying tally in the second period.
Karlsson, who is probably a cyborg, finished the series with a team-high-tying six assists in as many games, and leads all playoff defencemen in points so far. His average TOI of 30:24 leads all skaters in the postseason, and he topped all Ottawa players by logging 136 minutes during 5-on-5—posting a 56.7 Corsi during that time, and a top-five Corsi among defencemen after round one.
It's rare for players to disclose injuries before the end of the playoffs, when most lingering ailments are revealed. It's not clear why Karlsson decided to make his injury public now as the team gears up to face the New York Rangers in the second round, but it appears that he'll keep gutting it out, saying after Sunday's series-clinching win that his left foot is "better now, and by Thursday it should be pretty much back to normal."
Over parts of eight NHL seasons, Karlsson has been an All-Star three times and is already a two-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman. He's once again been nominated for the award after a regular season in which he finished third among defenceman with 71 points, while finishing No. 2 in the league with 201 blocked shots and fourth among blueliners with 26:50 of TOI per game. The Senators were one of the big surprises in the NHL's Eastern Conference this year, finishing second in the Atlantic and improving by 6 wins and 13 points from the previous season, when they placed fifth in the division and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.
The Senators clearly go as Erik Karlsson goes and, right now, he's going. Man, is he going.