PITTSBURGH -- Somehow through the devastation, the disappointment and the heartbreak, Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson saw hope.
"Not only for me, but for this team and this organization, this was a big step forward in the direction we want to head in," Karlsson said.
The wound that will take an offseason, or maybe longer, to heal, was open for no more than 20 minutes when Karlsson spoke those words.
He had come off the ice after watching Chris Kunitz's fluttering slap shot soar over Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson's shoulder and hit the back of the net, the one shot necessary for the Pittsburgh Penguins to beat the Senators 3-2 in double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.
[RELATED: Penguins top Senators in double overtime]
The Senators came the closest any team had come to getting to the Stanley Cup Final without actually getting there since the New Jersey Devils in 1994, who also lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in double overtime.
"You can take it any way you want, but the right way is to take it the way that we know what we have to do in the future to go a little bit longer in [the] playoffs," Karlsson said. "That's what we're going to take from it. We're going to learn and see it as a great experience."
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Anderson gets help from bar in OT
Karlsson had no problems holding his head high, knowing he did everything possible, even if he was limited by a left foot injury, to get the Senators as far as they could possibly go in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He had two assists in Game 7 and finished with 16, a Senators record in a single postseason. He led Ottawa with 18 points.
If anybody wondered how good Karlsson was before this postseason, well, they can't be wondering now.
"It's not so much about that for us or me personally," Karlsson said. "This was a great experience, something that a lot of us haven't gone through before and it's something we enjoyed. When we look back on this and reflect on things I think we're going to look back saying we did everything we could, we played some great hockey when we needed it most and we lost to a team that was better than us."
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Sens and Pens meet for handshakes
If Karlsson was Ottawa's best player this postseason, Anderson was a photo finish away in second place. He was, though, without question Ottawa's best player in the past two games.
Anderson willed his team to a 2-1 win in Game 6 with 45 saves. He stopped 39 more in Game 7, including the first eight in overtime.
Kunitz's winning shot, the Penguins' only shot in the second overtime, fooled Anderson because it knuckled and went end over end.
"I didn't see the puck at all," Anderson said. "[Sidney] Crosby spun around in the corner, threw it up to the high F3, and they had a guy going to the net. Between the two of them, I didn't see Kunitz release it at all.
"A knuckle puck end over end, just found the top of the net. Perfect shot. A little bit lucky, too."
Still, like Karlsson, Anderson somehow managed to see through the disappointment. He managed to walk off the ice, yes devastated, but with no regrets because why would he have any with the way he played?
"We made the most of our opportunity here. It just wasn't in the cards," Anderson said. "You can't fault anybody. You can't look at anybody. I think every single guy in this room [if they] looked at themselves in the mirror, they'd say they gave everything they had and know they didn't have any regrets with the way they prepared, the way they played. There's not many times you can say that. I know we can say that in this room."
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Boucher on Sens' strength, resiliency
Make no mistake, though, Karlsson and Anderson and every one of their teammates were partially robotic when they spoke after the game because, frankly, they were still numb from what had just happened.
"Shock, I think," Anderson said of what he was feeling. "At the moment it's surreal. It doesn't feel like it's happening, but it is."
He found a way to do it, but Karlsson admitted it is still a challenge to get past the disappointment and speak words of encouragement instead.
"Now it is," he said. "But when we go back over the summer and we reflect on this and we look at how far we actually got with where we were coming into the season I think we should be proud of that. It's hard to say that right now and look past everything. We're going to be [angry] and disappointed, but at the end of the day it's been a long time since this organization has been in the position we're in right now. We worked extremely hard to get to where we are and now we know it just takes a little bit more.
"We're not that far away."