All we asked for was a good, honest effort, and we got that from the Ottawa Senators in this game. It was hard-fought right to the end, but Ottawa's comeback effort ultimately came up short and they fell 2-1 to the New York Rangers in the seventh and decisive game.
The Rangers brought it early against the Sens, opening up a 4-1 shot margin on Ottawa by the three-minute mark in the game. The Sens bounced back from outshot New York 9-4 in the final minutes, including three shots on a powerplay, but Henrik Lundqvist was there.
Ottawa carried their momentum into the second period, firing four shots at Lundqvist before the Rangers got their first of the period. The Rangers made the most of that first one, though: After Nick Foligno failed to move the puck up the ice and Jared Cowen made a poor decision to pinch, the Rangers worked a three-on-one on Sergei Gonchar and Marc Staal finished off a perfect pass from Ryan Callahan. Five minutes later, Dan Girardi pinched in, too, and the Rangers were all of a sudden up 2-0.
Then the man stepped up. I'm not going to mention what this might have been for Daniel Alfredsson because we're all thinking it, but Alfie played like a man who wanted to leave everything he had on the ice, and he probably put most of it into the one-timer he fired past Lundqvist.
But New York fought through the goal and carried most of the momentum through the middle frame, outshooting Ottawa 12-8 in it.
The third period was insane. The Rangers opened up the period by outshooting the Sens 8-1 by the seven-minute mark, but then the Sens took over. New York hunkered down to preserve their lead, smothering Ottawa as much as possible and leaving the Sens to work the boards while congesting the middle of the ice. Ottawa got their chances, especially in the waning minutes of the game, but the Rangers defence combined with the choppy ice and a bouncy puck limited the potency of those chances. After coming close a half-dozen times or more, the Sens kept pushing, but couldn't even the score. The season ended, not with a whimper, but with some damn hard work.
That's the way it's been all season, though. This has been a lovable team with a never-say-die attitude who rise up just when you think they're down and out. It was a rebuilding year, and the team's young players learned a lot about what it takes to win in this league. The 2011-12 season seems like it marked a turning point for the Senators in much the same way the 1996-97 season did, with one difference: These Senators have a lot more skill to build with. The future is bright.
Sens Hero: Daniel Alfredsson
Alfredsson has spoiled his teammates throughout his career. Too often have they looked to him to be the man, the pivot upon which the team's fate hinges, and this game was no different. Alfredsson's goal in the second period was like a defibrillation of the fading Senators, and he brought them back into the game. Every time he does it he amazes us, but it's going to make things that much more difficult for this team when he decides to hang up his skates--whether that comes this off-season, or (hopefully) in the distant future.
Sens Killer: Dan Girardi
Girardi had been huge for his team all series long, with 27 blocked shots through the first six games plus another three in the seventh on Thursday. It wasn't just defence Girardi provided on Thursday, though: He also pinched in to score the game-winning goal, and absolutely laid out Erik Karlsson in the offensive zone. The year's been a coming-out party for Girardi, and this season is a nice cherry on his cake.
Sens Zero: Jared Cowen
Once again, it feels bad saddling a rookie with this kind of blame. But when you draw comparisons to Mike Komisarek, you're not playing a good game, and that describes Cowen in this one. His blown coverage led to the three-on-one that gave the Rangers their first goal, his giveaways killed momentum, and his penalty in the third didn't help matters, either.
Sens Killer: Madison Square Garden
Ottawa managed two win two games at MSG, but the ice was never of a worse quality than in game seven. That fact hurt the Senators more than the Rangers for three reasons: First, they are a fancier team, and that style doesn't work well on choppy ice; second, the Rangers are somewhat used to it; and third, the Rangers--by virtue of taking the lead early--were able to use the ice to their advantage. It certainly didn't work to Ottawa's.
Sens Zero: Jason Spezza
This season, Spezza took some significant steps towards becoming the team leader the Ottawa Senators need moving forward. On many nights he pulled up his socks and led the team to victory, playing what may have been his most impressive all-around season to date. Unfortunately, game seven wasn't one of those nights.
The Senators needed Jason Spezza to play his best game of the season in their most important game of the season, but he couldn't do it. He wasn't able to fight through the tight-checking Rangers defence or the terrible ice, both facets of the game that seriously hindered the creative capability that comprises Spezza's most marketable asset. But when he finds himself in the position where Plan A isn't available, Spezza needs to harness another gear to play in. He needs a Plan B to play by. Five points in the playoffs was good, but, unfortunately, not good enough--especially when the season was on the line.
Honourable Mention: Milan Michalek
Michalek's best game of the playoffs by a mile came in the series' most important game, and he was skating and hitting harder than he had to date in the post-season. He finished the game with six shots on goal and a good number of chances, but he couldn't beat Lundqvist.
Sens Zero: Zack Smith
I'm not going to say that Z. Smith had no intensity in the game because I'm sure that's not true. But it sure looked like he had no added intensity; he looked like he didn't give a crap, but in a bad way. He had two glorious chances in front of an open net, but both just glanced off his stick and didn't even result in a shot. Maybe he was just holding his stick too tightly, or over-thinking the game, but he fell off a cliff after the All-Star Break and that plummet continued through the playoffs.
Honourable Mention: Sergei Gonchar
Gonchar's best play of the season came in this year's playoffs, and that's most of what he was brought on board for. He's a veteran who knows what he can and can't get away with in the playoffs, and took full advantage of that leeway. I could moan about his late-game penalty, but I'm not going to because it wasn't much of anything. He was second on the team in post-season scoring with four points (1G, 3A) in the seven games.
Honourable Mention: Jakob Silfverberg
Silfverberg was pretty much invisible all game--right up to clutch time, with about five minutes left in the game, where Silfverberg morphed into Skillfverberg and partook in an incredible series of chances for the Sens. They pushed and pushed and pushed, but just couldn't get anything finished during a solid 90 seconds of offensive zone pressure. He was put in a tough position from the start, but it's something to build off of as he looks towards next season.