It wasn't supposed to end this way. A stunning setback. In overtime. A season ended far too soon. And far too painfully.
As Senators players sat in silence last night, looking for answers, their fans, some of them with tears not yet dry, did the same thing.
What went wrong? The answers won't come easy. Not even when the gutsy Senators valiantly tried to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. And to have it end this way. A short-handed goal. A win that could have shifted the pressure onto the Buffalo Sabres.
And now, this?
Some will wrongfully place the blame on the captain, Daniel Alfredsson ... a player who has given so much of himself to mould this franchise into what it is ... one of the NHL's best.
Others will blame the goalie, Ray Emery, a kid getting his first test of Stanley Cup playoff action, a rookie who saved his best effort for the crucial Game 4.
What about Dominik Hasek, the crown jewel whose groin problem became a pain in the butt for the rest of us? Only The Dominator knows how much it hurts, but the thing about athletes is they suck it up. You don't even have to be an elite athlete to learn that sometimes you have to play hurt. Hasek wasn't 100% and didn't want to play ... he said he couldn't. He couldn't when his team needed him most. Enough said.
And what about GM John Muckler? He was the architect of the wise trade that brought Dany Heatley to Ottawa ... but, the critics will say, he was also the voice behind some failed deals. Especially at the trade deadline. While other teams were adding "the little things," the Senators picked up bench warmers Mike Morrison and Tyler Arnason. Muckler is a "hockey man," likely to survive any storm. But look for him to make changes ... and not just cosmetic ones.
People looking to point fingers may look at Peter Schaefer, Chris Neil and Mike Fisher -- all players who showed us their potential during the regular season. Guys who bleed Senators blood. Guys who care. Guys who should stay.
Was Zdeno Chara still injured? His usual stellar play wavered a bit. There had to be a reason.
Would pylons have been more effective at times than Andrej Meszaros and Anton Volchenkov in the first few games? Don't give up on these kids, especially Meszaros. He'll be a cornerstone. And he'll sip from Lord Stanley's chalice someday soon -- in Ottawa.
Did Vaclav Varada show up?
We will wonder what went wrong, especially when the Senators didn't have to worry about defeating the blue and white punchline down the 401 -- the team that had become Ottawa's daddy come playoff time.
And in the end, we may never get the answers we seek.
On paper, the Senators may be the most talented team in the NHL. Better than the Buffalo Sabres.
But that's little consolation today. Not when other teams continue their Stanley Cup chase.
Rev up the Red will have to wait for another year.
Fans like the kids at St. Marguerite d'Youville, who plastered their school walls with Sun Senators cheer cards, will mourn the loss. But life will go on.
It'll be a tumultuous summer for the Senators, with important free agents to sign and so many decisions to make. It's becoming an all-too-familiar mantra this time of the year in Ottawa. Fore!