Hockey

Alfredsson's OT goal sends Senators to Cup final

Daniel Alfredsson scored 9:32 into overtime as the visiting Senators captured the NHL's Eastern Conference title with a 3-2 victory Saturday in Game 5 of their series against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Ottawa Senators are off to the Stanley Cup final.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson scored 9:32 into overtime as the visiting Senators captured the NHL's Eastern Conference title with a 3-2 victory Saturday in Game 5 of their series against the top-ranked Buffalo Sabres.

Carrying the puck into the Buffalo zone, Alfredsson snapped a low shot around defenceman Brian Campbell, surprising goalie Ryan Miller to the glove side and silencing the sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena.

"Right now it's kind of surreal," Alfredsson, who has been with Ottawa since his rookie season of 1995-96, told CBC's Elliotte Friedman."I don't think it's really sunk in yet."

The goal gave the modern-day Senators, who came into the league in 1992, their first berth in the Cup final. They'll meet the winner of the Western Conference final between the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks.

That series is tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5 Sunday afternoon in Detroit.

Courtesy of Saturday's win, the Senators will be the fourth Canadian team to playfor the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens won it all in 1993.

The Vancouver Canucks (1994), Calgary Flames (2004) and Edmonton Oilers (2006) were the others, but each lost in seven games.

Saturday's victoryalso completed a deliciously symmetrical arc for the Senators, who last springwere upset intheir second-roundmatchup against Buffalo when Jason Pominville went around Alfredsson to scorethe series winner in overtime ofGame 5.

Eaves returns

Alfredsson's linemates Dany Heatley and Jason Spezzahad big games Saturday.Spezzascored onceand added an assist, while Heatley had a goal and two helpers, including one on the overtime winner.

Alfredsson,whose strong two-way play has keyed the Senators attack this post-season, set up Spezza's goal.

"What else can you say about Alfie?"Spezza said. "He's been our leader the whole time. It's only fitting he scores that winner."

Second-year goalie Ray Emery, much maligned during lastyear'splayoff defeat to the Sabres, stopped 27 shots.

"It's just exciting to play for a team that has battled through what we have this year, and to get a chance to help that team achieve their goal is just great,"Emery told CBC.

The Senators welcomed back right wing Patrick Eaves, who missed 11 games because of a head injury suffered in the first round against Pittsburgh. Oleg Saprykin, who scored the winner in Game 1 against Buffalo, was forced to sit.

'Tough to swallow'

Jochen Hecht and Maxim Afinogenov scored, and Miller made 22 saves for Buffalo, which lost the Eastern final for the second straight year.

Last May,the injury-riddled Sabresfell in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.

Whilethat team was a pleasant surprise all season, this year's squad carriedthe heavy burden of expectations placed on them by Buffalo's long-suffering fans. The Sabres didn't disappoint, capturing the Presidents' Trophyfor the NHL's best regular-season record before knocking off the Islanders and Rangers in the first two playoff rounds.

But Buffalo, which also led the league with 308 goals,didn't have an answer for the high-powered Senators, who won nine of 13 meetings in the regular season and playoffs.

"It's tough to swallow," said Sabres co-captain Daniel Brière, who had two assists. "I really believed it was our year. We just couldn't get it going."

Heatley's hustle keys Spezza goal

Following a cautious opening few minutes, the Sabres showed the gusto of a team facing elimination while outplaying Ottawa in the first period.

It was perhaps Buffalo's finest stretch of the series, but Emery was equal to the task, matching Miller's seven saves to help the Senators escape to the dressing room with a scoreless draw.

The Sabres broke through 4:30 into the second, using a dump-in to get the puck in front of the net, where Spezza inadvertently kicked it to Hecht, who buried his fourth of the playoffs.

Ottawa drew even with under five minutes remaining in the period. Seconds after a tripping penalty onCampbell expired, Spezza collected a rebound in front of Miller and fed Heatley at the side of the goal for his first of the series and sixth of the post-season.

Heatley's hustle helped the Senators pull ahead less than a minute before the intermission. Charging back into his own zone to foil a shot attempt by Toni Lydman, Heatley caught the defenceman out of position by chipping the puck up to Alfredsson for a 2-on-1 chance that Spezza completed for his seventh.

Afinogenov notches equalizer

The Sabres didn't quit, though, evening the game on a power-play with nine minutes left in regulation.

Just after Buffalo saw its5-on-3 advantage expire, a Brière shot bounced off the post and directly to Afinogenov, who tapped it into a yawning cage for his fifth.

It was the second assist of the game for Brière, theslickcentrewho along with fellow co-captain Chris Drury will be a free agent on July 1.

Drury's possible last game with the Sabresended in painful fashionafter he took a point shot to the face in the third period, forcing him to play the overtime with a plastic shield protecting his gashed chin.

Sabres forwardDainius Zubrus did not play due to a lower-body injury, and was replaced in the lineup by rookie Drew Stafford.

Stafford had a glorious chance to put Buffalo ahead after the Afinogenov goal, but had his wraparound attempt foiled by a sprawling Emery.

The play was part ofa wild end to regulation time that sawthe Senators kill off two penalties in the final eight minutes.

The second of those foulswas a delay of gameto Mike Comrie, who may have prevented a game-winning goal when he slid into and dislodged the Ottawa net to prevent a Sabres scoring chance.