Losing most assuredly sucks, but the pain is temporary, and in any case it’s human nature to accentuate the positives at times like these.
For the Ottawa Senators, that means focusing not on the mistakes that cost them a 2-1 Game 7 defeat to the New York Rangers on Thursday, or the fact they are 0-5 in seventh games in franchise history, but on the future of their youthful group, which seems very bright indeed.
“We’re real excited about this team and the steps we took this year,” said Ottawa coach Paul MacLean. “We learned a lot about ourselves as players and coaches.”
That was a theme echoed by his charges, who to a man feel they are ahead of schedule in the development of key youngsters like defencemen Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen, centre Kyle Turris and junior-aged players Jacob Silfverberg and Mark Stone, who had their NHL and playoff baptisms.
“We’re really proud of the way we came together. We didn’t really know the identity of our team at the start of the year, there were a lot of unknowns, we came together and became a team that had an identity: one of speed and hard work,” said Nick Foligno, another member of the youth brigade at age 24. “There’s a lot to be proud of, there’s a lot of really good moments in this year, it’s hard to think of those right now in the disappointment of a loss, but I’m sure we’ll go over those in our head.”
Team captain Daniel Alfredsson also pointed to the silver lining in Thursday’s loss.
“I think the whole season has been a step in the right direction for the whole organization,” he said, adding “we were a bunch that made some mistakes in a lot of games, but we never quit.”
The 39-year-old said he’s going to take time to consider his future and contemplate whether it might be time to retire after 17 years in an Ottawa uniform.
“I’ll take some time, obviously, see how I feel physically and mentally after taking some time off,” he said.
MacLean was asked about what he can do to entice Alfredsson into returning, and said “that’s up to Daniel ... but I know he’s had fun, and if you can have fun playing hockey you usually don’t stop.”
Though this series was often ill-tempered - witness the events involving Ottawa’s Matt Carkner and New York’s Brian Boyle - both teams were complimentary of the opposition after it was all said and done.
“They’re a talented hockey club,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella, who has a youth movement of his own to be excited about - 20-year-old Chris Kreider, who played his first NHL game earlier in the series was arguably New York’s best forward on the night.
Tortorella acknowledged that his team was “fortunate” to get by the Senators, but said the squad will benefit from a stiff first-round test.
“It was a hard series, against a very good team. I thought both teams went toe to toe in all areas of the game. Sometimes the first round is the hardest round. That’s all this is, one round. We found a way. We were fortunate. I’m very happy with the group, and they should be real proud of themselves, for about an hour. It comes up quickly. It starts quickly. We have some things to get ready and get to the next one,” he said.
Next up for New York is a re-match of last year’s first-round contest with the Washington Capitals, who have ousted the Rangers the last two times the teams have met in the postseason.
And to beat the Caps, New York will have to be better than they were in the first round - the Senators were the better team for most of game seven, the Rangers owe their victory to goaltender Henrik Lundvist - the King was at his imperial best.
He foiled Milan Michalek twice in the third period, and made a game-saving left toe stop on a Filip Kuba slapper in the late going.
“There was a little more edge to it and it was a great feeling being out there. You try not to think about the importance of the game and put too much pressure on yourself. I tried to just go out there and see it as Game 89 instead of Game 7. Especially for a goalie, I think it’s important to have a good approach to the game and not try to do too much or change your game because it’s a more important game,” Lundqvist said.
Over the final five minutes, the Senators camped out in the Rangers’ end of the rink, peppering Lundqvist with shots and generally dominating the conference champions..
“It was amazing the puck didn’t bounce in ... we had them on their heels but we just couldn’t find that goal,” said Foligno.
This game unfolded in front of an enthusiastically profane New York crowd, which delighted in serenading Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil with chants, and also vented its collective spleen at the referees.
During a Rangers power play late in the second period, some fans directed their ire at the home team.
“Get off the ice, Richards, you suck!” shouted one ticket-holder who was evidently unhappy with Ranger forward Brad Richards’s performance.
The Senators began pressing forward at the end of the first period, and had started the second brightly, but then, a crucial mistake.
Just before the five minute mark, rookie Ottawa defenceman Jared Cowen was caught out of position trying to harry Rangers captain Ryan Callahan near the Senators’ blue line, and when the puck was chipped behind him, New York had a three-on-two break.
With Turris trying to get back into the play, Derek Stepan calmly passed the puck through Sergei Gonchar to Marc Staal, who deposited a shot into the open side of the net.
To that point, the Senators had arguably enjoyed the better chances to open the scoring, although there were warning signs.
In the first period, the Rangers frequently bottled up the visitors in their own end, and defensive zone coverage was a chore for Ottawa, particularly when Filip Kuba and Norris Trophy finalist Karlsson were on the ice.
The Rangers took a two-goal lead four minutes after their opener a Jason Spezza pass went awry and confusion in the Senators zone saw the puck pop out to New York’s Dan Girardi in the slot - Karlsson had over-committed and Girardi had plenty of time to tuck the puck into the top of the net past a helpless Craig Anderson, who matched Lundqvist save for eye-popping save.
The Senators were given life when New York’s Michael Del Zotto cross-checked Neil vigorously in front of the Rangers net, breaking his stick.
On the resulting power play, Alfredsson fired a one-timer past Lundqvist’s short side - he was the best Ottawa player not named Anderson this night, drilling Staal with a heavy hit and generally playing his heart out.
Should this have been his last game, it was a worthy finale to a sparkling career.