Dejected Senators search for answers
For the current incarnation of the Ottawa Senators, getting farther than ever in the Stanley Cup playoffs simply wasn't good enough.
After a devastating season-ending 6-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday, the players' comments reflected their disappointment in having come so far, but ultimately coming up short.
"It feels very empty," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told CBC Sports. "We workedso hard to get all the way here.
"Anaheim was a good team. But we didn't come up to our level of play that we could."
In their second post-season appearance under head coach Bryan Murray, the Senators showed a poise and focus early on that was largely absent from their playoff appearances in years past.
Led by its top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Alfredsson, who led all playoff scorers with 22 points apiece, Ottawa enjoyed a magical run to the Cup final — needing just five games to dispose of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres in each of the first three series.
But the Senators ran into a determined and hungry Anaheim Ducks squad that largely neutralized Ottawa's top offensive threats and forced them to break up their top line in Game 5.
"It's indicative of how we played as a line in the final," Spezza said. "We couldn't get anything going.
"We have to be the offensive catalysts and we might have got caught up in the talk that we had to dominate offensively. We just didn't produce as a line."
The end result was the Senators falling in five games and looking as inept as the teams they disposed of earlier in the post-season.
For Murray, deviating from the things that got them to the final is what cost them.
"We had some guys that didn't play to what they were playing in the playoffs," he said. "I think that's most disappointing and what we and they have to live with through the summer."
Goaltender Ray Emery, who surrendered six goals on 18 shots in Game 5, agreed with Murray's assessment and remained convinced that, despite winning the Stanley Cup, Anaheim wasn't necessarily the better team.
"I think we were more than capable of winning against that team," Emery said. "That's why it's even more disappointing.
"I'm saying, if we play our game, we beat that team. But we didn't play our game."
Defenceman Chris Phillips might have best typified Ottawa's fortunes in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Phillips was brilliant through the first three rounds, but he will largely be remembered for inadvertently scoring on his own net during the second period of Game 5.
"I felt bad," Phillips said as he fought back tears. "Obviously, it was a mistake, not something I wanted to do.
"We were right there in the second period until my screw-up seemed to take momentum away."
His teammates, however, were quick to defend him.
"It's just a terrible break," Alfredsson said. "I feel bad for him.
"He's had an incredible year for us. Those things happen."
If the Senators can take any solace from Wednesday's crushing series loss, it's that Anaheim was in a similar position back in 2003.
"Don't forget, [the Ducks] lost in the final a couple of years ago," Hockey Night in Canada analyst Harry Neale said. "Maybe the highway's paved for Ottawa next year."
With files from the Canadian Press