NEW YORK, N.Y. - Once the Ottawa Senators failed to knock out the top-seeded New York Rangers when they had the chance at home in Game 6, the chances for a big-time upset collapsed around them.
New York had the best record in the Eastern Conference in the regular season, and the second-best overall mark in the NHL, but it didn't matter after the eighth-seeded Senators topped the Rangers in Game 5 to put them on the brink of elimination.
The Senators just couldn't finish. Given one more chance to move onto the second round, Ottawa came up a bit short Thursday night and dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker in Game 7.
"We put ourselves in a good position going home. We couldn't get it done," forward Jason Spezza said. "It's a tough loss. We really thought we could win the series. We felt like we had a chance to beat these guys. It's really disappointing right now. We had chances to tie it up.
"You could play that game over again, it could be a one-goal win by us. It was so close all series."
Ottawa's first two wins in the series came in overtime, and the Senators were tied 2-2 heading back to New York for Game 5. They showed they weren't intimidated at all by the bright lights of Broadway and beat the Rangers 2-0 in that one—giving them two road wins in three tries in the series and four victories at Madison Square Garden this season.
So even after the tough 3-2 home loss on Monday in Game 6, the Senators had every right to believe they could finish off the Rangers in New York.
Ottawa fell behind 2-0 in the second, got within a goal later in the period when Daniel Alfredsson scored, but couldn't get another puck past goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the third despite intense pressure in the Rangers' zone in the final minutes.
"We felt good about coming here, and we knew it wasn't going to be easy," Spezza said. "They are the top team in the East. They weren't going to roll over for us. We gave it our all.
"We have a great group of guys. That's what makes it so hard to lose. We feel we are building something that can be special. We're not a pretty group. We scratch and claw our way into everything. There was never any quit all year."
While the Senators were all even after four games, they didn't hold the lead in any of them—except for the overtime goals that ended their two victories. They mustered a total of 13 goals in the series, but needed one more to get Game 7 into overtime.
"It's an empty feeling, especially when the game goes down to the last seconds," Alfredsson said. "It feels weird and tough. We played a hard-fought game. A couple of mistakes cost us, and Henrik made some big saves in the third."
The fact that Alfredsson netted the Senators' last goal of the season was fitting, especially if the 39-year-old team captain decides to retire after 16 NHL seasons—all with Ottawa. He was sidelined during the season by a concussion and then was forced to miss three games in the playoffs after an elbow to the head from Rangers forward Carl Hagelin left him with another one in Game 2.
He will put a lot of thought in before he makes a final decision on his hockey future.
"I'll take some time and see how I feel physically and mentally after some time off," said Alfredsson, who has 47 career NHL playoff goals. "This year has been unbelievable. It's been a lot of fun. It's a great group of guys to be part of. They kept me upbeat and happy when I'm a grumpy old man at times.
"I don't know how long I'm going to take. I have meetings with the coaches and Bryan (general manager Bryan Murray), as well. Then I'll be with family and see how everything feels. Do I have what it takes to play at a high level in the this league? There are questions I have to ask myself and be honest. From that an answer will come."
The Senators' loss wasn't only a letdown for them but for all of Canada. For the first time since 1996, no Canadian-based NHL teams advanced to the second round. Canada only had two chances this year, and the Vancouver Canucks—the Presidents' Trophy winners—were upset by the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings in the West.
"I thought we had some great opportunities, and Lundqvist played really good for them," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "At the end, they deserved to win the series and deserved to move on."