The choke's on us

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 2:53 PM ET


 TORONTO -- The Senators thought it would be different this year -- they were right. This loss hurts even worse.

 The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't just bury the Senators, they squeezed the life right out them, with an ugly 4-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre.

 Bad goaltending by Patrick Lalime in the first period left the Senators down 3-0 and they never recovered. The Leafs chased Lalime to the bench after he allowed three goals on 11 shots.

 The Senators choked back tears and frustration after the game. The best-of-seven series, won 4-3 by Toronto, could easily have gone to the Senators.

 "It's so frustrating because we had expectations this year to win the Stanley Cup and we weren't able to get it done," said defenceman Chris Phillips. "We've got a lot of guys in that room who believe we can win as a group and we just haven't been able to get it done.

 "This is tough. This is a difficult way to lose. We all want to win so badly and we all want to get the job done. We did a lot of good things in this series, we just weren't able to do enough to make the difference."

 While the Leafs will begin Round 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow, the Senators will spend another summer wondering, why? Why another playoff exit? Why once again at the hands of the Leafs, the fourth time in five years Toronto has owned Ottawa?

 Joe Nieuwendyk scored two first-period goals for the Leafs, while Chad Kilger and Bryan McCabe added the others. Only winger Vaclav Varada was able to score for the Senators.

 "This is not the way we wanted it to end and not the way we expected it to end," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "Our goal was to win a Stanley Cup this year and we're not going to achieve our goal. We just didn't play well enough.

 "We've got people on this team who care. We wanted to beat the Leafs, but you've got to give them credit. (Goalie) Ed Belfour played well and we had chances that we just couldn't cash in on."

 Owner Eugene Melnyk, who wants a Stanley Cup, could elect to make sweeping changes. That means everybody, including president Roy Mlakar, GM John Muckler and coach Jacques Martin, will be under the microscope.

 The Senators could have won this series, but a combination of factors, not the least of which was Belfour, worked against them.

 "We felt that we could beat this team," said centre Todd White. "We felt confident. That's why this is tough."

 Lalime, a restricted free agent July 1, was inconsistent all season and chose Game 7 to give his worst effort of the series. Goaltending aside, the Senators just didn't score enough goals in this series.

 While Kilger's opening goal at 6:19 of the first period was the result of a couple of defensive errors, both goals by Nieuwendyk should have never happened. The first beat Lalime on the stick side and the second was through the five-hole.

 That was it for Lalime.

 "Patrick didn't have a good night, but you win as a team and you lose as a team," said Martin. "Belfour was the difference. He made big saves."


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