Five reasons Senators couldn't quite pull off upset
OTTAWA -- At the beginning of the season, no one could have predicted that the Ottawa Senators would be in a playoff spot, let alone push a No. 1 seed like the New York Rangers to the brink of elimination. The group of veterans and fresh-faced young players overachieved at nearly every turn, but they were unable to knock out the Rangers when it counted.
Here are five reasons why the Senators were unable to advance to the second round:
The 21-year-old was a superstar in his third NHL season, contributing 78 points in the regular season and earning a Norris Trophy nomination in the process. However, the Rangers effectively shut out the defenseman, holding Karlsson to only one point -- a goal scored in Game 2. Shots became hard to come by for him, especially while facing one of the top shot-blocking teams in the League. Karlsson had a series-high 10 shots on goal in Game 2, but after the halfway point of the series, his totals began to decline. The blueliner had six shots on goal in Game 4, four in Game 5, three in Game 6 and none in Game 7.
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"[It's been] a little bit [frustrating]," Karlsson said prior to Game 7. "Obviously I want to do things offensively, but if I have to do something else to help the team win, whether it's throwing hits, blocking shots or playing [well] defensively, you do what you have to. Offensively, right now, it's tough."
2. An ineffective power play
The Senators' power play was in shambles for the majority of the series, which even led to the benching of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek at the beginning of the third period in Game 6. Ottawa had 26 attempts on the man-advantage through seven games, and was able to score only four times. The Senators were hopeful that their success on the road would work in their favor -- the team had won four of five games at MSG this season prior to Game 7 -- but their special teams never emerged. Ottawa's power play sat at just 15.6 percent at home and on the road.
Spezza's numbers on paper were acceptable -- the No. 1 center had five points in seven games. However, he seemed to struggle in finding a rhythm, and received criticism for choosing to make the pretty pass as opposed to taking the shot. The decision by coach Paul MacLean to sit Spezza through a portion of Game 6 did not help matters, and led some to believe that the coach and his star were butting heads.
When asked why he was sat, the forward was short in his response. "[MacLean] didn't say anything," Spezza said. "He just felt like we needed some different guys."
Michalek also was benched during Game 6, and the speedy forward was a non-factor in the series, scoring only one point -- a goal in Game 4. After achieving his best season as a Senator, with 35 goals and 60 points in 77 games, plus an All-Star Game appearance, the Sens needed more from the 27-year-old. Michalek was devoid of any "puck luck" during the series, most notably during the third period of Game 7, when he found himself unable to capitalize against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
4. Pressure on young players
The selling point of the Senators' young stars was that they had won a Calder Cup with Binghamton of the American Hockey League last year and were used to the grind and pressure of the playoffs. But life in the National Hockey League moves at a different speed, and some of them had their lack of experience exposed, with the Game 7 loss proving a notable example.
Nick Foligno caused a turnover, but Jared Cowen's decision to go for the hit on Ryan Callahan allowed Callahan to pass the puck to Derek Stepan, who eventually found Marc Staal, who scored the game's first goal at 4:46 of the first. Zack Smith felt frustrations as well -- with three minutes to go in the third, Filip Kuba fed a diagonal pass to Smith, who was lurking near the Rangers' net. Smith had the game on his stick but couldn't get the shot off. He returned to the bench and pounded his stick on the floor in anger.
5. An inability to come from behind in Game 7
One of the Senators' signatures this season was their ability to rebound and snatch victories from the hands of unsuspecting opponents. The Rangers began Games 2 and 4 with the lead, but Ottawa regrouped and won both in overtime.
With New York up by two goals in the second period Thursday, the Sens fought desperately to catch up. Daniel Alfredsson's one-time blast from the point at 11:34 made the score 2-1, and for several minutes the ice was tilted toward the Rangers' end as Ottawa continued to send pucks at the New York net. The Senators, however, were unable to solve Lundqvist and watched the series slip through their fingers.
"Over seven games they were the better team and that's the way it is right now," Karlsson said. "It's hard to swallow right now, but at least we gave it our all."