OTTAWA - If the end truly is near, Daniel Alfredsson doesn't want to go out like this.
The classy Ottawa Senators captain unleashed a tirade during Monday's Game 6 loss unlike anything seen during his previous 1,240 NHL games. It included a smashed stick, squashed water bottle and a few choice words directed towards coach Paul MacLean.
And it was followed by a morning-after mea culpa.
"It was bad," Alfredsson said Tuesday. "I know I've got to control myself. I didn't send a good message to the rest of the team by doing that, so I don't think you'll see that happen again."
There might not be many more opportunities. Ottawa faces a Game 7 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night and it could very well be the last time Alfredsson ever plays in the NHL.
Interestingly, that possibility hasn't yet developed into a major local story during this series—Alfredsson has fielded far fewer questions on the subject than countryman Nicklas Lidstrom faced before Detroit was eliminated last week—despite the fact the 39-year-old has hinted on a couple occasions that this might be his last playoffs.
It's almost as if Alfredsson has become such a mainstay with the organization that no one can imagine him actually retiring.
But Monday's outburst offered a glimpse of the urgency in the current situation for Alfredsson, who returned to the lineup nine days after suffering his second concussion of the season and was acutely aware of the opportunity slipping away from the Senators when he threw his tantrum.
The team entered the night with the first-place Rangers on the ropes and delivered its worst performance of the series during a 3-2 loss that was nowhere near as close as the score might suggest. To a man, Alfredsson's teammates understood why he was so frustrated.
"He cares so much, so I don't think it's unusual in the sense that sometimes it's just there's a boiling point and the emotions run high," said forward Nick Foligno. "We have to make sure we keep that in check (in Game 7) and I think Daniel knows that."
The trigger that set Alfredsson off was a hard, clean hit from Rangers forward John Mitchell along the boards. It came on Alfredsson's first shift after being glued to the bench for a key power play—MacLean was sending a message to his star players—and drew such frustration from the Sens forward because he put himself in a vulnerable position so soon after returning from a concussion.
"I had pretty good control of everything until I got hit and then I just lost it," said Alfredsson. "I can't explain it in any other way."
He doesn't believe the recent head injury was a factor in the uncharacteristic behaviour.
Injuries have taken a toll on Alfredsson in recent years, with a serious back problem bringing an early end to his 2010-11 season. He had a good bounce-back effort this campaign and was announced Tuesday as one of the three finalists for the Masterton Trophy, which honours perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
The Swede maintains he's still game for the rigorous nature of hockey at its highest level—"It's a physical sport, but it's also fun," he said with a smile—but he can almost certainly sense the shifting dynamic in the Senators locker-room.
Even with a Game 7 on tap against the Rangers and hopes for a long playoff run still alive, MacLean spoke Tuesday about how Ottawa views itself as an organization that is focused on the future, as evidenced by the decision to have prospects Mark Stone and Jakob Silfverberg make their NHL debuts during the series.
"Again, we're still in a building, rebuild or foundation thing," said MacLean. "I know that we're getting a little old saying that ... but we are still a team that's growing."
After gathering for a team meeting Tuesday, the Senators weren't shy about reminding reporters that they are underdogs against a New York team that virtually led the Eastern Conference from start to finish in the regular season.
However, Ottawa seems to thrive on a little-team-that-could mentality and it would be unwise to overlook their chances of winning on Thursday. Not only did they rack up more victories on the road than at home this season, they've also gone 4-1 at Madison Square Garden since October.
"We find ourselves in a really good position right now going (against) a team that has a lot of pressure on them," said forward Jason Spezza. "We have a chance to spoil their season—they finished in first place. And we have a chance to make ours a real successful one.
"So we like our position right now."
If they're looking for any extra motivation, they need only look across the dressing room at Alfredsson.
The only thing that can guarantee he'll play another game at Scotiabank Place is a victory on Thursday that would set up second-round dates in the arena next week. At this point, Alfredsson doesn't want to consider any other possibility.
"Right now I'm just taking it day by day," he said. "As I said before the playoffs, this could be my last playoffs no matter what. We'll see after (the season) I guess, but I don't know right now."