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Disappointed Senators taking positives from season

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- In the end, their captain was right.

But the Ottawa Senators aren't going to let getting eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins ruin what was, on the whole, a positive season.

"I hope they don't bill us for that clinic," Senators coach Paul MacLean said after the Penguins' 6-2 win in Game 5 wrapped up this Eastern Conference Semifinal on Friday night.

"One thing about our group is adversity really tends to be something we thrive on and we can take good things out of. And we will take good things out of this, and it will make us better."

Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson was scrutinized in some parts for what he said following Pittsburgh's 7-3 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Alfredsson, in comments he did not back down from but were made in a larger context, said "Probably not" and "It doesn't look too good" when asked whether the Senators could come back to win the series down 3-1 to the powerful Penguins.

Pittsburgh proved Friday that the 40-year-old knew what he was talking about. The Penguins outscored the Senators 22-11 in the series, and their one defeat was in double-overtime of Game 3.

"I don't know if I've seen a team that deep, to be honest with you," Senators goalie Craig Anderson said.

"They don't miss when they get chances," center Jason Spezza said.

"You give them anything," defenseman Chris Phillips said, "they take advantage of it."

It was too much for the emerging, growing Senators to overcome in what was considered Year 2 of a rebuild after a last-place finish in 2011.

"Right now we're a team that's pretty young," Alfredsson said. "This was the first experience in the playoffs for a lot of people, and we've learned a lot.

"But they were a class above us."

The Penguins are a veteran team, one that won the Stanley Cup four years ago and was the highest-scoring unit during the 2012-13 regular season.

Despite the presence of older players Alfredsson and Phillips and a handful of others, Ottawa relied on an abundance of young talent. Nine rookies played significant roles at points during the season and/or playoffs. And that doesn't count key pieces Erik Karlsson (22) and Kyle Turris (23).

The Senators overcame the loss of Karlsson and top-line center Jason Spezza for the vast majority of the regular season because of injury to claim a playoff spot as the seventh seed. They upset the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in five games.

"After great success against Montreal in the first round, I think we got a lesson from how to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from a good team," MacLean said, referencing the Penguins. "And we learn lessons well.

"They really showed the step you have to take to continue to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I can tell them it's going to be hard, it's going to be hard, it's going to be harder. But I think we got a solid lesson in terms of what it takes."

The futures of Alfredsson and 39-year-old defenseman Sergei Gonchar are in doubt. Each is a pending unrestricted free agent and one or both could choose to retire.

"I hope they don't bill us for that clinic. One thing about our group is adversity really tends to be something we thrive on and we can take good things out of. And we will take good things out of this, and it will make us better."
-- Senators coach Paul MacLean

The health of Spezza and Karlsson also figures to be a point of discussion as the offseason gets under way. Neither went into too much detail about the nature of his respective injury (Karlsson came back from a lacerated Achilles; Spezza from back surgery) still affecting him. Each said he would speak about it in the coming days.

Spezza returned Sunday for Game 3 to play for the first time since Jan. 27 Reigning Norris Trophy winner Karlsson did not play between Feb. 13 and April 25.

"More for them was the lack of playing time," MacLean said. "Their injuries were healed up, but the pace of play and lack of playing is what showed through. Their injuries weren't a factor, but the fact they didn't get to play was more of a factor.

"I liken it to getting on a treadmill. You put the treadmill at 7 and you get on it and try to start going right away. It was difficult for them, and I think it showed as it went along."

Not unlike how the speed and skill of the Penguins gradually overwhelmed the Senators.

In the postgame locker room after Game 5, no one was slamming his stick, there were no tears and no terse exchanges with media. Alfredsson said there were no player speeches.

The vibe was more of resignation -- the Senators accepted that, despite the best of intentions, they just weren't ready to compete with the high-flying Penguins. Not yet, anyway.

After overcoming so much, Ottawa's players chose to revel in what was an overall good season rather than mire in dejected misery.

"Maybe we could have done 1,000 things different -- but you always could when you lose," Karlsson said. "You've got to give it to them; they played great. We were close, but not close enough."

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