James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Erik Karlsson was reportedly seen limping after Game 6

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Great sports performances can become mythologized when a player fights through injuries.

Kirk Gibson’s home run was basically a sappy Hollywood baseball movie come to life. Patrice Bergeron was just one of the many hockey players who’ve won big despite jarring injuries. Curt Schilling may or may not have been embellishing his bloody-sock heroics, but it’s easy to understand the temptation.

So, maybe it’s wise to apply a grain of salt along with a bag of ice here, but Ottawa Senators superstar Erik Karlsson was limping in the locker room after scorching the New York Rangers in Game 6, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

As you may recall, Karlsson raised some eyebrows when he revealed that he had been playing against the Boston Bruins with two hairline fractures in his heel. While the Swedish defenseman said that he expected to be fine by the time the second round began, there were plenty of theories to the contrary. Midway through the series, Mike Milbury wondered if the Rangers needed to go after Karlsson considering his challenges.

Here are some theories on his current condition, in case the Senators/Karlsson are a little less transparent as they head into the Eastern Conference Final.

  • Karlsson is hurting, but maybe doing a little better than we believe.
  • It’s as bad or worse, yet he’s just that good.
  • He’s taunting us and playing things up a tad.
  • Some combination of those above points?

Then again, there’s also this theory, which may make you break your coffee cup.

Goodness.

Senators eliminate Rangers, advance to Eastern Conference Final

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The New York Rangers made things very interesting on Tuesday, but they couldn’t force a Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa survived a harrowing third period of “prevent defense,” allowing a beautiful Chris Kreider goal but keeping things together enough to advance to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. The Senators won 4-2 in Game 6, matching the series score of 4-2.

Erik Karlsson was probably the biggest star of the show, grabbing an assist on the opening tally and the game-winning goal.

After some stumbles earlier in the series – at least relatively speaking – Craig Anderson was also excellent in Game 6, stopping 37 out of 39 shots on goal. He only yielded that Kreider tally in the final frame despite the Rangers’ 15-5 shot differential.

Mark Stone deserves credit in his own right with a goal and assist, while the empty-netter was fitting with Jean-Gabriel Pageau scoring his seventh goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to ice this contest.

The Senators’ Cinderella story keeps chugging along, as they’re only four wins away from an unlikely appearance in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Of course, Ottawa’s toughest test might come in the third round, as they’ll face the winner of Wednesday’s Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Either way, the Senators will be the underdog in the Eastern Conference Final. Luckily, that role has suited them quite well.

Bruins expect Bergeron, Rask to be ready for next season after surgeries

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The Boston Bruins put up a good fight in the postseason, but injuries and the Ottawa Senators did them in. A couple “successful surgeries” heighten hopes that the B’s will begin 2017-18 closer to full strength.

Patrice Bergeron (sports hernia) and Tuukka Rask (right groin surgery) both underwent successful procedures this week and are expected to be ready for next season, the team announced.

Bergeron scored 21 goals and 53 points in 79 games, hogging the puck often enough to become a Selke finalist once again. Rask experienced an up-and-down season, at least by his lofty standards, but perhaps he was hindered by health issues.

If successful surgeries aren’t enough optimism for Bruins fans, Joe Haggerty has some praise for the work GM Don Sweeney is doing in this CSNNE.com piece and video.

Erik Karlsson stomps on Rangers’ momentum with pretty goal (Video)

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There were some stretches where the crowd seemed pretty dead at Madison Square Garden, wondering if the New York Rangers would even make a push against the Ottawa Senators in Game 6.

That push happened as the building was uplifted thanks to a spiffy Mika Zibanejad goal, cutting Ottawa’s lead to 2-1. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Erik Karlsson just doesn’t have it in him to allow his opponents any hope.

On a truly stupendous shot, Karlsson made it 3-1, silencing the crowd as rapidly as the people at MSG came back to life.

For fans of Karlsson’s outrageous skills, it’s vindicating to see him play at this level.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder if his critics are starting to have second thoughts.

2018 Winter Classic: Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Rangers at Citi Field

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The 2018 Winter Classic will pit the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Rangers at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

The game is scheduled to air on NBC at 1 p.m. ET on New Year’s Day in 2018, a nice bonus for the 10-year anniversary for the popular outdoor game.

“The Winter Classic made its debut under snowy Buffalo skies in 2008, and we look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of that landmark event by matching the Sabres with their intrastate rivals, the New York Rangers, in the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field,” Gary Bettman said. “With New York City as its host, the renewal of our New Year’s tradition will continue to inspire hockey memories for our clubs, our players and our fans.”

As you may remember, the Buffalo Sabres hosted the first Winter Classic in 2008, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins via a memorable (and indeed snowy) shootout.