Short of goal, long on memories

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

One goal short.

Some day, the Senators might look back on this season as a success, but they can't do that right now.

And, of course, they shouldn't.

Second chances don't come along often in life and you have to think it's going to be a while before the Senators get another shot like this one to win the Stanley Cup.

Yes, they have reached the NHL playoffs 10 straight years, but this was the one time in recent seasons that no one picked the Senators to win the Cup. They flew in under the radar and roared through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but got shot down by the Anaheim Ducks when push came to shove.

Here's a few of my memories of a long ride:

- Centre Alexei Kaigorodov is brought in from Russia and it's not hard to tell on the first day of training camp that he can't play. The club gives him a chance for the first month, he doesn't show anything and then returns home because he doesn't want to go to the Senators' AHL affiliate.

- Struggling in November after signing a three-year, $11.1-million US contract as a free agent, goalie Martin Gerber was on and off the bus like a yo-yo while holding a cellphone after a loss in Florida. Gerber couldn't stop the puck and the Senators couldn't stop the bleeding. Backup Ray Emery was injured at the time and Gerber couldn't find his confidence.

- Trying to quell rumours that he would hire NHL vice-president Colin Campbell to take over as GM, owner Eugene Melnyk publicly backs incumbent John Muckler and coach Bryan Murray. From there, the Senators started to soar.

- At the start of the New Year, the Senators tried to claim Petr Nedved off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers after injuries to Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette. But the Edmonton Oilers picked up Nedved instead. That forced Muckler to look elsewhere for help, specifically Phoenix. The Coyotes needed to trim payroll so dealt centre Mike Comrie to Ottawa in exchange for Kaigorodov. Comrie came in and helped the Senators big time.

- Upset after getting nailed in the crease by Montreal's Maxim Lapierre during a 5-3 win Feb. 10 at the Bell Centre, Emery slams his stick across Lapierre's head and is subsequently summoned to a hearing with Campbell. Emery was handed a three-game suspension so Gerber, who had been used for hand-picked opponents since November, returned to the net.

- The Senators failed in a bid to obtain veteran Florida forward Gary Roberts at the NHL's trade deadline Feb. 27.

Panthers assistant GM Randy Sexton told Muckler that Roberts would cost the Senators a No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. That, Muckler decided, was too high a price for a 41-year-old role player.

Instead, much to the chagrin of fans and media, the Senators gave up a second-round pick in 2008 in exchange for Phoenix right winger Oleg Saprykin. Muckler also shopped Gerber and defenceman Joe Corvo, but couldn't find any takers.

- Melnyk visited Canadian troops in Afghanistan, bringing along Senators sweaters and Tim Horton's gift certificates for Hockey Night in Kandahar. Melnyk said he was excited about his club's chances in the playoffs and was hungry for a Stanley Cup. He watched the Senators get past the Penguins, Devils and Sabres in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Then, before Game 4 of the final against the Ducks, he declared that every home game will be sold out for next season.

- Melnyk, president Roy Mlakar, Muckler and Murray were in the Senators' dressing room in Buffalo after watching the club clinch its first Eastern Conference title thanks to Daniel Alfredsson's overtime winner in Game 5.

Melnyk wore an Eastern Conference champions hat and t-shirt emblazoned with the Senators logo as players had their pictures taken next to the Prince of Wales Trophy in the middle of the room. Finally, the Senators were going to the Stanley Cup final.

- Tears were shed as the Senators watched in stunned silence as the Ducks celebrated their Stanley Cup championship following a 6-2 victory in Game 5 in Anaheim.

Defenceman Chris Phillips was the picture of defeat, fighting back tears after he had scored on his own net. The Senators faced the grim reality that they were beaten by a better team, a group that wanted it more than they did.


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