ANAHEIM, Calif. (CP) - Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson entered the Stanley Cup final as the hottest line in hockey.
They played most of their last game of the season on three separate units. "It's indicative of how we played as a line in the final," a teary-eyed Spezza said moments after his season ended Wednesday night. "We couldn't get anything going. We have to be the offensive catalysts and we might have got caught up in the talk that we had to dominate offensively. We just didn't produce as a line."
Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson still finished 1-2-3 in playoff scoring with 22 points apiece. But Spezza and Heatley, in particular, had a final to forget, looking little like the dynamic duo that terrorized Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo in the first three rounds.
"I don't think we played as well as we could," said Heatley, limited to one goal in the five games. "It's frustrating and disappointing. Especially offensively, we're better than that, we can create more than we did. I don't know what to say more than that."
Alfredsson remained a force, scoring three goals in the final, two of them in the fifth and deciding game Wednesday night - a statement of kind after his boneheaded shot at Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer in Game 4.
At least Alfredsson went out in style. His 14 playoff goals led all scorers.
"He's led us all year long and he was great," said Heatley.
But that didn't dull the pain for the 34-year-old Senators captain.
"It can't be more disappointing than it is," said Alfredsson. "I don't care if I'm 22 or 34. I hate to lose. It's tough to go this far and not get it done. But we got beat by a better team."
They thought they had the better club after trouncing President's Trophy winners Buffalo in the Eastern Conference final. Asked what his reaction would have been two weeks ago if a reporter told him the Senators would lose in five games to the Ducks, Alfredsson didn't blink.
"I would have thought you were a fool, no offence," said Alfredsson. "We felt we were going really good going into the final."
Most experts agreed and picked the Senators to win. And that's what makes it tougher for the Senators to accept.
"This is hands down the hardest loss I've ever had," said Spezza. "We're so tight in the room, we had high hopes for ourselves. I don't know what to say, it's the hardest loss I've ever had."
Not every Senator was convinced the Cup champion Ducks are the better team, which seems hardly a point Ottawa could still argue.
"No," said Sens goalie Ray Emery. "I think we were more than capable of winning against that team. That's why it's even more disappointing ...
"I'm saying if we play our game we beat that team," added Emery. "But we didn't play our game."
Asked why exactly his team didn't play up to its standards, Emery had no answer.
"I don't know, I can't answer that," he said.
"I didn't play as well as I wanted to," he later added. "That's what I'm frustrated about."
No one felt worse than top defenceman Chris Phillips, whose stellar playoff may only be remembered by knocking the puck in his own net in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
"I felt bad obviously, it was a mistake, not something I wanted to do obviously," said Phillips, fighting back tears. "We were right there in the second period until my screw-up seemed to take momentum away."
His teammates were quick to defend him.
"It's just a terrible break. I feel bad for him," said Alfredsson. "He's had an incredible year for us. Those things happen."
In a few weeks the Senators will perhaps remember what was still a wonderful playoff run, one that silenced the longtime critics who said they didn't have what it took to win in the playoffs.
"We're disappointed," said centre Mike Fisher, who was Ottawa's best player in the final. "We thought we were better. We played, obviously, a great team, but we feel we didn't rise to the challenge in the final and play as well as we could. That being said, we had a great year, we did a lot of great things, we proved a lot of people wrong that didn't believe in our team.
"We're going to learn from this and do what we can to win."