BY BRUCE GARRIOCH,
The pain was evident by the looks on their faces in a quiet dressing room.
The Senators were unable to win the first Game 7 in franchise history as Chris Kunitz scored his second of the game in double overtime to give the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 win and the Prince of Wales Trophy with a 4-3 series victory in the Eastern Conference final.
Instead of hosting Game 1 of the Cup final Monday night at home, the Senators will head to the Canadian Tire Centre on the weekend to pack their bags after the most successful season in recent history that included playoff wins over the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers before being halted by the Penguins.
“It’s heartbreaking because you know the nature of the business side of things and you know the group will never be the same,” said Ottawa winger Bobby Ryan. “It’s heartbreaking. You realize we’ve got two days together here and then we’re gone for the summer.
“We didn’t want it to end but they came up one shot better.”
This was a great game in every way, shape and form. You really had to wonder if it was ever going to end as both goalies came up big. Kunitz beat Craig Anderson high to send the crowd into hysterics at 5:09 of the second overtime.
“It just found its way to the net. I just got lucky to put one in,” said Kunitz.
While Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone were able to beat Penguins’ goalie Matt Murray in regulation, only Justin Schultz and Kunitz were able to beat Anderson. Both goalies were brilliant and had to come up with big stops as they two teams pushed hard for the win.
“The guys in here, right from the day I left the team and came back, you couldn’t ask for a better group of teammates,” said Anderson.
The Senators refused to back down. After Schultz gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead with only 8:16 left in the third on the power play, Dzingel tied it up when he picked up a rebound off the post and beat Murray at 14:41 to tie it up. Dzingel did a great job getting his stick on the puck for his second of the playoffs.
Ottawa has had to battle the odds all year. They lost winger Clarke MacArthur for most of the season to a concussion in camp while Anderson took a two-month personal leave to be with his wife Nicholle while she under treatment for a rare form of cancer. Always, they have found a way to persevere.
“It’s really tough,” said coach Guy Boucher. “I think it’s beyond pride to be honest with you. It’s a lot more beyond hockey this year. I wish I could have done something more to help them.”
Through 40 minutes, the Penguins and Senators went toe-to-toe and the score was tied 1-1 as Ottawa was outshot 15-12. The Senators had their second power play of the game late in the period but they couldn’t get anything going. The two teams exchanged goals during a flurry midway through the second.
Only 20 seconds after Kunitz opened the scoring for the Penguins, the Senators answered back when Stone scored his fifth of the playoffs to tie it up. He beat Murray on the glove side from the circle and though many felt the Penguins should challenge for offside replays confirmed that it wasn’t.
Through 20 minutes, the Senators and Penguins played to a scoreless tie. Pittsburgh was ahead on the shot clock 6-5. Neither team had much in the way of great chances but Murray and Anderson made the stops when needed. The Senators were able to look at this as a successful road period because Pittsburgh didn’t dominate.
“At the end of the day we lost to a better team,” said captain Erik Karlsson. “We did everything in our power and it could have gone either way. They did it for a little bit longer than we did and a little bit better. We played the best team in the league and we gave them a good match.
“We’re very disappointed in the loss and getting so close and it’s going to be an experience we’re going to have learn from. We’re going to have to keep improving.”
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby heaped praise on the Senators especially the play of Anderson who gave his team a chance to win.
“We thought we had some great chances but Anderson was incredible. He’s been like that the past few games,” said Crosby. “(Ottawa) was really difficult to play against. They didn’t give us much.”