Sens gain valuable playoff experience

JASON YORK, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:02 PM ET

I give the Senators a lot of credit for making this a series after going down 3-1 to the Penguins, who were heavy favourites coming in.

The Senators never quit and they treated their fans to some hard-fought, exciting games. There may have been a record set for most goals under review — the Ottawa Heart Institute was probably very busy during the last few weeks.

The Senators gave this city hope and were so close to forcing a Game 7 — and in Game 7s, anything can happen.

It’s too bad the Senators came up a little short because Ottawa is the team in the East which matches up best against the Washington Capitals.

In the end, Ottawa left it all out there and cannot be faulted for a tremendous effort. Everyone has an opinion, but here are three reasons why the Senators couldn’t beat the Penguins.

Injuries

Let’s be honest, with two Top 6 forwards out in Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek, plus one of your top defencemen in Filip Kuba, Ottawa was going into a gunfight with a BB gun.

Daniel Alfredsson was playing injured, not hurt. He was pretty good in this series, especially in Games 5 and 6, but it was obvious from Game 1 that he was not himself. The only way you were going to keep him from not playing, though, was to break both his legs and I still think he’d try and suit up. Alfie will probably have to go under the knife to repair a stomach tear.

Too much strength down the middle

Sidney Crosby played like a man possessed for most of this series. He didn’t factor in on the scoresheet in the final game, but Ottawa’s core players expended huge amounts of energy all series trying to contain him. Evgeni Malkin wasn’t as consistent as Crosby, but he, along with Jordan Staal, gave the Penguins a tremendous advantage down the middle.

Malkin did most of his damage on the power play and Staal just wore down Ottawa’s defence down low with his big body on the cycle.

No other team in the NHL can match Pittsburgh’s depth down the middle.

Experience

Going to two Cup finals in a row was a big advantage to have in the experience department for Pittsburgh.

Sergei Gonchar was Pittsburgh’s most dangerous threat from the blue line, QB of the power play and an important minute-eater.

Erik Karlsson was playing the same role for the Senators. Considering that Karlsson is a rookie and this was his first taste of NHL playoffs, he passed his first test in flying colours. Obviously, Karlsson had some big turnovers and his decision-making needs to get better, but comparing him to Gonchar at this point is not fair. Ottawa had no other choice but to go this route with Karlsson. In the battle of Gonchar vs. Karlsson, Gonchar wins hands down ... but not for long.

Only Ryan Shannon had any playoff experience on Ottawa’s fourth line (with Zack Smith and Jesse Winchester). They had a hard time creating energy and momentum, especially early in the series, when Shannon’s lack of size for a fourth- line role was exposed.

Peter Regin, another playoff rookie, was excellent for most of the

series and has a tremendous future. But he was quiet in the latter part of the series. He now knows he has the ability to be an elite player in this league.

Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire were both seeing their first playoff action as well. Elliot had a tough time and was eventually replaced by Leclaire, who played pretty well, especially in Game 5. He finishes with something to build on after an injury-plagued season.

It’s never fun to lose in the first round, but when you go down fighting the way the Senators did, you often become a better team because of the experience you have gained.


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