The Ottawa Senators were supposed to head to Pittsburgh with their backs against the wall and bring their A-game against the Penguins, but they couldn't gain any leverage against the nonstop attack of the Eastern Conference's top regular season team. The Senators' season ended with a 6-2 loss to the Penguins on Friday night.
Over the last two games, we've witnessed first-hand ample evidence that the Penguins were simply not to be matched by the Senators. The depth of the Penguins offered no rest for the Sens; as soon as one potent line would get off the ice, the next equally potent line would be on, and the team had no time to breathe. If Sidney Crosby was shut down, Evgeni Malkin stepped up. If they were both shut down, James Neal was there. Kris Letang was always waiting in the wings. The Senators were so busy defending against the relentless Penguins that they could barely generate any pressure on Tomas Vokoun and the Pens' defence, let alone the amount of sustained pressure that would have been necessary.
This is a team we can all be proud of, though. It's hard to believe the 2013 season was just half a regular year, considering all the ups and downs that the Senators persevered through. Even on Friday night, with the team down 6-2, there was no quit; the team was still fighting.
I can't help but feel that this year was a turning point for not only the team, but the city as well. The way this community rallied around the team and drew inspiration from them was outstanding. There was peskiness on the ice, but in the stands, too. Fans fed off the team, and the team was able to draw from the fans as well. It's no coincidence that this team was 15-6-3 at home in the regular season and 3-1 at Scotiabank Place in the playoffs.
But on Friday night, and throughout most of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Penguins, there was little in the way of momentum for the Senators. They couldn't gain traction; their tires were spinning, but they weren't getting anywhere. Although Craig Anderson offered admirable resistance against their offence, he simply couldn't stop them all. His defence couldn't contain them. His forwards couldn't counter. The effort was there, but the Penguins were simply too good.
The future, however, is bright. Baptism by fire for rookies like Jakob Silfverberg, Patrick Wiercioch, Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Eric Gryba, very impressive development from Kyle Turris, the instant and perfect fit of Marc Methot, incredible commitment and resilience from Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, and Jared Cowen, and a Hart Trophy-worthy season from Craig Anderson sets this team up for next year. There's still that one huge question mark remaining (you know the one I'm talking about), but this team is set up very nicely for the present and the future.
Sens Hero: Marc Methot
The Penguins scored six goals on Friday night and Marc Methot was only on the ice for one of them, James Neal's first of the night on the powerplay. Last game, the Pens scored seven times and Methot was once again only on the ice for one, which was also a powerplay goal. Methot was the most reliable defender for the Senators throughout the post-season, and he's quickly become a very important leader on this team. Everyone is looking forward to seeing what he and Karlsson can do in a full season alongside one another at full health.
Honourable Mention: Milan Michalek
It took the better part of the post-season, but Michalek finally showed up towards the end--coinciding with the return of Jason Spezza. He scored his second goal in as many nights on Friday, had more chances (at least among those I noticed) than any other forward, and was a presence. He may not be fully healthy right now, but hopefully an off-season of training and rehab he'll be a star for the Senators next year. This team needs him alongside Spezza to lead this team.
Honourable Mention: Kyle Turris
Throughout this playoff series, Kyle Turris has been one of the team's three most impressive skaters (alongside, in my mind, Pageau and Andre Benoit). Although he seemed not ready to take the reins as a leading centreman in the regular season, Turris stepped up in the post-season. He had a goal and an assist on Friday to finish with 9P (6G, 3A) in the ten games against Montreal and Pittsburgh. His experience this season should give him plenty of confidence in preparation for next year, and hopefully he can continue his development alongside Spezza to become a very envious 1-2 punch down the middle.
Dishonourable Mention: Jared Cowen and Sergei Gonchar
The depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins was especially evident when their second line would end up matched against the pairing of Cowen and Gonchar. Those two Ottawa blueliners were obviously in over their heads against James Neal in Game Five. Cowen found himself out of position far too often, usually scrambling to catch up to his man and failing in the process. Gonchar was simply too slow to compensate for Cowen's unreliability and too vulnerable to the Penguins' forecheck.