OTTAWA — Shortly after Ottawa's first-round playoff win over Boston, Senators captain Erik Karlsson revealed he had been playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel.
Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion called it another example, along with Clarke MacArthur's return and Craig Anderson's resilience, of the inspiration the Senators are finding in their own locker-room as they prepare to open a second-round series against the New York Rangers.
Karlsson's performance was earning rave reviews before anyone knew of his injury, but Dorion says it's the star defenceman's personal growth that's even more impressive.
"The ability that he has to play through pain and be as dominant as he has not being 100 per cent says a lot about him," Dorion said Monday, three days before the Senators and Rangers opened their series at Ottawa's Canadian Tire Centre. "That's what playoff hockey is. Battling through injuries, battling through little nicks and trying to do it for your teammates and for yourself."
"We can talk about the hockey player, but as an individual the level of maturity that he's acquired is spectacular," he added. "Not only is he one of the best players in the league, it's also what he does as a leader and the example he sets. A lot of the players know the pain he played through.
"He's a special player. I've never come across a better player in my career."
MacArthur scored the overtime winner Sunday to end the series capping what has already been an emotional return for the 32-year-old.
He was shut down in January by doctors after suffering four concussions in a span of 18 months and was not expected to return to action this season, if ever. But MacArthur resumed training after a brief hiatus and stunned the hockey world returning to the ice April 4.
"Clarke is a big inspiration for us," Dorion said. "The two big goals he scored in these playoffs is part of special moments. What happened (Sunday), I don't know how many times in my career as GM that we'll have moments like we lived yesterday.
"When you see someone who worked as hard as he did this year to come back and finally there's a moment where everything falls into place and he's the guy who puts the puck in the net you're so happy for him. It's a team sport, but you can't help but be so happy for him as an individual.
"The human side that he brings to our room helps so much."
While MacArthur scored the winner it was Anderson who kept the Senators in the game with timely saves as his wife Nicholle, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, surprised her husband by showing up at the game. The two hadn't seen each other in nearly three weeks as she recuperates at their home in Florida.
Dorion praised Anderson's ability to block out everything his family is going through and perform as well as he has.
"When the person you love the most on earth is going through what they're going through and his ability to block it out, to focus on his teammates, I don't know how I can put that into words," said Dorion. "He comes here and he's as good a pro as I've ever seen in my NHL career. He allows us to win every game."
While the trio provided plenty of inspiration the Senators performance as a whole can't be overlooked. When players were injured or struggling Ottawa's depth allowed them to make seamless changes.
"I think we did a lot of little things well and I think at the end of the day that's what mattered," said Dorion. "I think we scored goals when it mattered the most and fortunately that's why we're heading to playing hockey in May."
Ottawa is hopeful to have its full roster at its disposal for Game 1. Defenceman Mark Borowiecki, who suffered a lower body injury Game 2, is making progress, as is forward Tom Pyatt who missed the last two games of the series with an upper body injury.
Dorion said he watched the Rangers opening series against the Montreal Canadiens closely and knows they'll provide a tough challenge.
"The Rangers impressed me, this won't be easy. They're a very good hockey team, they have systems in place and it was really fun watching their series."
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press