BUFFALO - Final-ly!
As the puck by flew by Buffalo Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller's glove side in OT, Daniel Alfredsson raised his arms in the air, headed for the corner and waited with a smile as the Senators' greatest celebration as Eastern Conference champs was officially underway.
The Senators captain, who has been around for the club's decade of disappointments, scored at 9:32 of OT to give Ottawa a 3-2 victory over the Sabres and, more important, to book a trip to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in the club's modern day history.
"This means a lot to me," said Alfredsson. "It's taken so much hard work and it's a great honor to be here right now. Right now, this is kind of surreal. I don't think it has real sunk in yet. I felt pretty good even though they tied it in the third. We've shown a lot of character throughout and this was no different.
"This is great for the fans. They stuck with us throughout and it's probably the best hockey community to play with in the world. I'm privileged to be a party of it and it's really nice to get a chance to play for the Cup now."
Unlike the club's last trip to the Eastern Conference final that ended in disappointment in 2003 with a loss in Game 7 to the New Jersey Devils, it was Alfredsson who accepted the Prince of Wales Trophy from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
Alfredsson touched it, but he didn't lift it.
"I was going to (lift it), but I didn't think it was that big," said Alfredsson with a smile.
The Senators, who finished the series off with a 4-1 win, will now have time to rest their wounds as they wait for the winner of the Western final between Detroit and Anaheim. Yes, they planned to party last night in Ottawa, but their excitement was tempered.
"We're not going to get too high about this," said Senators defenceman Wade Redden. "It was great to see Alfie score this. It's a great feeling to get this point and we've to feel good about ourselves for getting here as well.
"But, we've got remember that there's more work to be done. We've come a long way and we've got to keep that in mind, but it sure is a great feeling to go into a final."
Many thought this was over in the third, but a 5-on-3 man advantage with Anton Volchenkov and Christoph Schubert off was costly. It resulted in the tying goal by Buffalo's Maxim Afinogenov that sent it to OT at 10:58.
While Volchenkov was back on the ice, the Sabres were still putting on the heat down and it was Afinogenov who was able to push a rebound off the post by Emery on the stick side to send the building into hysterics.
"We knew we were playing well, we were getting chances and we just had to keep going," said Senators centre Jason Spezza.
Up to that point, the Senators looked like they were leading a charmed life. Nothing else can explain the 2-1 lead they held after the second on the strength of goals by Spezza and Heatley's first to end a five-game goalless skid. Spezza scored the go-ahead goal at 19:21 of the second. That lead didn't stick. It just took a little extra work in OT, but it was all worth it.
"I'm just excited. That's something you dream about. Having a guy score in OT to send you to the finals, it's a great day for us," said Ottawa goalie Ray Emery. "It's exciting. We've been really playing well this year. It's great to have a chance to get to the finals and great to have a chance to win the Cup."