Defensive letdown costs Sens series

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is congratulated by Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson after...

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is congratulated by Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson after Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., April 26, 2012. (GARY HERSHORN/Reuters)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:57 AM ET

NEW YORK - A month or two ago, Bryan Murray thought the Senators could do some damage this season because they had the most offensively productive blue line in the NHL.

They died by that sword Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

While Erik Karlsson was prevented from putting the puck in the net again, Rangers defencemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi scored their first goals of the series and Ottawa’s surprisingly decent season came to an end in a 2-1 final.

The Staal goal was the result of mistakes by Nick Foligno and rookie Jared Cowen, while the Girardi goal was just plain unacceptable. The Senators’ best players — Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Karlsson and Filip Kuba — were all on the ice, but not nearly getting back to their end or playing hard defensively enough. Craig Anderson was left lonelier than the guy who works in the middle of the Lincoln Tunnel when Girardi had the puck in front of him.

How does that happen?

The Senators stayed true to their never-go-quietly attitude with a strong, hard push in the third period, but they just couldn’t get the equalizer. Henrik Lundqvist saves off Michalek and, fittingly, a Girardi stop off Kuba spoiled the Senators rally attempts.

“There’s a lot we can be proud of,” said Chris Phillips. “We have a hard-working team that didn’t quit all year. We proved a lot of people wrong. Until the last buzzer, we didn’t give up.”

And now, the only comeback anyone cares about has to do with Alfredsson.

Does he want to go through the rigorous training in the summer and another 82-game schedule? Can he maintain his strong compete level?

“All the questions I have to ask myself, and be honest,” he said. “And from that, I think the answer will come.”

He should come back. Eight months from his 40th birthday, he was the Senators’ best player in a do-or-die game. But afterwards, listening to him talk, it sounded like it was also his last.

KNOCK KNOCKING

Opportunity was banging loudly on the Senators’ door. They heard. They answered. But they couldn’t embrace it. When these Stanley Cup playoffs began, the two biggest Eastern Conference obstacles standing in anyone’s way to the final were the talent-laden Pittsburgh Penguins and the defending-champion Boston Bruins. When those two teams were knocked aside by the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, the path became wide open. “We’re definitely excited about the opportunity to get a win and see what happens,” Nick Foligno said after the morning skate. “After watching all those teams and them not being around now, we still have to get by the New York Rangers, and they’re a tough team, but we’re looking to do that. Once that happens, hopefully it happens, we’ll open the door and see what’s out there.” It could have been very interesting.

STARTS AND STOPS

Alfredsson had some sage words for his young teammates before they stepped out on the ice: “It’s a big game, but remember, it’s a game. Have fun.” He then proceeded to do what everybody had to know he was going to do — score — the game after his Scotiabank Place meltdown ... Michalek had a couple of great chances in the third period, but he just couldn’t convert, and the bottom line is the Senators weren’t likely to win a seven-game series while getting just one goal from their top sniper ...The refs had their whistles in their pocket for most of the night and that’s where they belonged when Anderson was looking for a penalty after getting slightly bumped along the back boards by Brandon Prust in the first. Anderson stayed on the ice, waiting for the call that never came, and the Senators would have trailed 1-0 early in the first had Girardi been able to hit the open net.

STUFF I THINK I THUNK

The crowd was all over Chris Neil, who early in the day was told he’s become Public Enemy No. 1 in New York. “If they have me as that, then I’m doing my job,” he said. They were calling him something else during the first period. The chants of “Asshole” turned into “F--- you, Neil” ... A contingent of Senators fans tried to pick up the tradition at Scotiabank Place of counting down to the 11-minute mark, but they messed up. They counted down to 11:11, and when started chanting “Alfie” they were quickly drowned out by Rangers fans who turned it into “Alfie sucks.” ... The second-period attempt was rudely interrupted by Girardi’s goal, while with 11 minutes to go in the third there was an even mixture from the two sides - for a couple of seconds, at least.

BETWEEN PERIODS

Spezza skipped the morning skate just as did before Game 5, when he would later score the only two goals of the night. While his mates were on the ice he mentioned something about being a creature of habit. For much of Game 7, it looked like Spezza should go back to the habit of skating in the morning. He was off all night ... Remember how Mark Borowiecki was going fishing when he received the call from the Senators, saying they had drafted him? On Tuesday, the team called to say they wanted him to join them for the playoffs. And again, his attention was on another activity. “I was downtown with Eric Gryba and we were doing our turkey hunter safety course,” the Kanata-raised defenceman said af MSG hours before Game 7. “On top of your Hunter’s Education Ontario, you’ve got to do that to hunt turkeys. I feel like everything around this team I’m always doing something outdoors.” With Matt Carkner out, Borowiecki took the warmup but the coaching staff decided to have Matt Gilroy fill the hole on the blue line instead. ... Erik Condra’s second goal of the night, with just over a minute left, allowed the Binghamton Senators to take Game 7 of their first-round series with Manchester into overtime last spring. Because he saved the B-Sens from elimination, and they went on to win the championship, you’d think it would be one of the biggest goals of Condra’s life. “It was one of them,” he said Thursday morning. “I scored the OT winner in the Quebec Peewee championship (for Honey Bay.) I was with the Detroit Red Wings and we won the whole thing. That was probably my biggest goal.” ... Condra, on Game 7s: “It’s still hockey. You can pump up the intensity, but guys can only do so much. You can’t turn into Superman just because you’re super intense. It’s still the same game. You’ve still got to play the same way.”

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM ...

Filip Kuba was guilty of two bad defensive zone giveaways in the first period ... Also struggling at various times throughout the evening was Jared Cowen ... Nice to see a couple of Ottawa’s finest in the stands not far from our perch here in the pressbox. Didn’t recognize them with their clothes on, but by that I mean I’ve never seen them wearing Senators jerseys.


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