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What went wrong for Sens? Start with what the Ducks did right

Nothing that transpired in the ensuing two weeks changed that. They're still a three-line team. Luckily for them, the Ottawa Senators were a no-line team in the Cup final, which ended in five games Wednesday after Anaheim's 6-2 win.

Correctly branded as a deep, four-line squad that rolled past Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo in the opening three rounds, the Senators' only consistent forward in the Cup final was Mike Fisher.

Wingers Antoine Vermette and captain Daniel Alfredsson also had decent efforts. And that's where it pretty much ends.

The star combo of Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, so dominating and productive in three previous rounds, hit a wall in the Cup final. The supporting cast also struggled. Mike Comrie, Peter Schaefer and Chris Kelly were lacklustre in the final.

The 12-forward, four-line attack disappeared in Game 1 and never returned.

"We thought more people were a part of the package coming into the series," Senators head coach Bryan Murray said. "And it hasn't appeared."

The Ducks' checking line of Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen deserve much credit for shutting down Spezza and Heatley. The Senators stars were frustrated by that unit and their close checking. Somehow Pahlsson and company seemed to anticipate their every move and skated with the stars stride for stride.

Spezza and Heatley didn't have to contend with that in the opening three rounds.

New Jersey's vaunted checking unit led by Jay Pandolfo and John Madden couldn't handle the Spezza line. That tells you how impressive the Pahlsson group was this spring.

Other factors in Anaheim's five-game Cup triumph:

-Anaheim's brutal, physical style. The Senators had not faced anything like it in the East. They were hammered repeatedly from the second the puck dropped in Game 1 and while they put on a brave face in a Game 3 win and gave some of that physical play right back, they couldn't sustain it in Game 4. The Ducks' aggressive and pounding forecheck had Ottawa's six defencemen looking over their shoulders, making them tentative with the puck and often giving it away because of it. It killed Ottawa's transition game.

-Ottawa's nine-day layoff. It sounds like a whining excuse but it's not. People in and around hockey will tell you how much it hurts the rhythm of a team to be away from competitive hockey that long. Not to say the Senators would have won the Cup with a shorter layoff, but being shut down for that long is shameful. The NHL must look into this for future finals. The Senators never regained their 'A' game after disposing of Buffalo. It was a much different, more fluid-looking squad that disposed of the Sabres in five games.

-The West is the best. One Western Conference GM told CP before the Cup final that he thought the Ducks would win in "four or five games because the top teams in this conference are that much better." He felt the President's Trophy winners in Buffalo and fellow East standouts such as Ottawa and New Jersey were overrated. He pointed to the fact most of the top goals-against averages belonged in the West this season while most of the goals were scored in the East. Defence and goaltending win championships. The GM felt Detroit, San Jose, and maybe even Vancouver could have beaten Ottawa in the final.

-Experience. This was the first time at the big dance for the Senators while the Ducks had been here before in 2003, not to mention the 2006 Western Conference final. Veteran defenceman Scott Niedermayer also brought his three Cup rings from New Jersey to Anaheim. On the experience side it's a lopsided game. The Senators were playoff pushovers until finally breaking through this spring. The big time was all new to them.

Perhaps, the Senators will be better for this experience and get another shot in years to come. That's all they have to comfort them now.


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