NEW YORK -- It should never have come to this, to Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, to Game 6, to the brink of elimination and then -- poof! -- elimination. The New York Rangers never should have allowed this to happen.
"I think we kind of gave it away," forward Mats Zuccarello said.
They did. It's their fault. It might be a regret that lasts a lifetime.
[RELATED: Complete Senators vs. Rangers series coverage | Elimination has Henrik Lundqvist of Rangers feeling 'numb']
The Rangers were knocked out of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a 4-2 loss against the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round.
That they chose a horrendous time to have a flat start and play from behind, something they had done for 13:10 through the first five games, is merely the small-picture view of what transpired in this series.
"It's tough sitting here thinking about that, talking about that, what could have been," defenseman Dan Girardi said.
The Rangers had a two-goal lead with less than four minutes remaining in the third period in Game 2 and wound up blowing that, including allowing a 6-on-5 tying goal with 62 seconds left, before losing 6-5 in the second overtime.
They had a one-goal lead with less than 90 seconds to play in Game 5, gave up another 6-on-5 tying goal and lost 5-4 in overtime.
Even in Game 1 they had a lead late in the second period before giving up a goal at 18:39 and then another one with 4:11 remaining in the third to lose 2-1.
"We put ourselves in a position to win almost every game. We just didn't get it done," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "The last few minutes there in a couple of games, like I said, it hurt us there really bad in the series."
Video: OTT@NYR, Gm6: Vigneault talks Rangers' elimination
Still, take nothing away from the Senators, who played their best game of the series Tuesday and earned the right to advance to the conference final, when they will play the winner of Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals on Wednesday.
The Senators had the best player on the ice in every game, defenseman Erik Karlsson, who, despite being hobbled by an injured left heel, made an indelible mark on the Rangers and the hockey world with an inspired performance.
Karlsson had a goal and an assist in 28:44 in Game 6. He had three assists in 31:09 in Game 5. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) against the Rangers, willing the Senators to win the series in six games.
Ottawa was opportunistic. Its desperation showed late in games. It counted.
Craig Anderson, who allowed 16 goals in Games 2-5, allowed two on 39 shots in Game 6, when the Senators scored first and had a two-goal lead for the first time in the series.
"We had a lot of chances that I think we let slip through our fingers, but it's a good team over there, don't sell 'em short," Rangers center Derek Stepan said. "They battled real hard. They played real strong games. They had that magic. Sometimes you've got to have a little bit of that."
And now all the Rangers have is reality. It's harsh.
To lose Game 2 was indefensible. Nothing less.
To lose Game 5 was the same.
Video: OTT@NYR, Gm6: Sens, Rangers shake hands at center ice
"It's killer," forward Rick Nash said. "It's what's hitting me the most. We had small little breakdowns within those last minutes that didn't allow us to win those games. You know, it was the difference-maker in the series."
It also led the Rangers to this dangerous Game 6, to the precarious position of having to win or else. Frankly, it's a game they should never have been in, but they were, so they chose to go focus on the obvious positives before the game.
They were home. They had Lundqvist in net and all of his experience and unbelievable stats in games when the Rangers faced elimination, including a 10-1 record, a 1.05 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage in his previous 11 such instances at MSG.
And yet they came out with the desperation you'd normally see from a team on a Tuesday in November, not May. That might even be a knock on Tuesdays in November. That's how ineffective the Rangers were.
Ottawa scored twice in the opening 14:44 to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Rangers, booed off the ice after the first 20 minutes, stole momentum back for a few minutes in the second period after Mika Zibanejad scored at 13:32. But Karlsson -- yeah, that guy -- scored what turned into the game-winner 2:21 later.
The Rangers tried again to mount a comeback in the third, starting with a goal from Chris Kreider at 53 seconds. They had the puck for what seemed like the entire period. Even their penalty kill generated chances. They outshot the Senators 15-5. They had six offensive-zone faceoffs in the final four minutes. They pulled Lundqvist to go 6-on-5 for the final 90 seconds.
Video: OTT@NYR, Gm6: Kreider pushes a late rebound wide
They couldn't tie the game. They couldn't do what the Senators did to them in Game 2 and again in Game 5.
"Great third period, a great push, but we came up short," Lundqvist said. "It's going to hurt for a while."
It shouldn't have to. It shouldn't have ever come to this.
It did. The mirror won't be kind to the Rangers this offseason.
"We have nobody to blame but ourselves," captain Ryan McDonagh said, "and that's the truth of the situation."