Penguins have to do what nobody else could this postseason: Stop Erik Karlsson

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Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has been the talk of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, not only for the way he has dominated on the ice, but for the way he has pretty much put his team on his back and carried it through the first two rounds.

Finding a way to neutralize him and slow him down will almost certainly be the No. 1 focus for the Pittsburgh Penguins if they are going to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for a second year in a row.

Given the way Karlsson has played this postseason, stopping him is going to be easier said than done.

Entering play on Saturday Karlsson is the Senators’ leading scorer with 13 points in 12 games, while also playing just under 29 minutes per game. He did a lot of that while playing through a hairline fracture in his foot during the first-round against the Boston Bruins.

He has been arguably the best player in the playoffs and will almost certainly be the best individual player the Penguins have faced this postseason.

They were asked about that challenge on Saturday before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final in Pittsburgh.

“He is obviously a threat from anywhere on the ice,” said Penguins forward Bryan Rust on Saturday. “During the course of the playoffs he can make plays from behind his own net and end up with goals so he is a guy that is obviously very skilled and does what he does well. He is a guy we have to keep our eye on. We are not going to change our game very much but he is definitely a guy who has to be taken away. You just have to be aware of him.”

Coach Mike Sullivan was asked how he plans to deal with a defenseman that plays that many minutes from a matchup perspective. He said the best way to go about doing that is to make sure they make Karlsson and the Senators’ top offensive players expend their energy on defense.

“I don’t know that we’re going to look for a matchup against a defenseman,” said Sullivan. “As you said, he’s going to play half the game. So he’s going to be on the ice a lot. He’s a very good player. He’s one of the elite defensemen in the League. We’re certainly going to have to do our best to make it a hard game for him. I think the way our team does that most effectively is with our own puck possession, in forcing him and more of their offensive players to have to expend energy defending us. I think that’s an aspect of our game where I know our team can get to another level, and we’re going to try to bring that more consistently.”

The Penguins were one of the NHL’s best possession teams a year ago and continued that dominance through the postseason. But that style of play has not consistently been there this year, thanks in large part to the injury to their own superstar defenseman, Kris Letang. Through their first 12 games against Columbus and Washington the Penguins have managed to outshoot their opponents just two times. One of those games was their Game 7 win against the Capitals which might have been their best game of the playoffs and the first time they really started to get back to the identity they established last year.

Karlsson and the Senators are going to provide a different type of challenge from what the Penguins have seen through the first two rounds. The Senators have excelled this postseason by slowing the game down through the neutral zone and clogging up the middle of the ice.

“I think that’s how it is every year,” said Conor Sheary when asked about adapting to different styles as the playoffs go on.

“With each round and each series it’s a new challenge and every team is going to play a little different. From our first series to our second series it was the same way and it’s not different this time. We just have to focus on what we do best and if we do that I think we will be okay.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.