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Sens can't put away champs in Game 6

by Shawn P. Roarke
OTTAWA – In the end, the Ottawa Senators did not have the answers to unseat the defending Stanley Cup champions.

There is no shame in that.

Four teams tried to end Pittsburgh's playoff run last season – including the then-champion Detroit Red Wings – and couldn't. Now, the Penguins are a more confident, more playoff-tested team. Still, Ottawa pushed Pittsburgh to the brink before running out of gas.

The fuel tank hit "E" in stunning fashion Saturday night before a rabid home crowd at Scotiabank Place. Forty-eight hours removed from one of biggest, most dramatic wins in franchise history – a 4-3, triple-overtime triumph in Game 5 at Mellon Arena to extend this series -- the Senators suffered one of the most stunning collapses in their history.

On this night, the Senators would jump out to a convincing three-goal lead before dropping a 4-3 decision.

"I thought we came out strong," Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said. "Once we scored that third goal, we sat back and they got energy after that disallowed third goal. We battled right to the end. We don't quit. The guys that played, played hard and didn't quit."

That disallowed goal came when an apparent goal by Mike Fisher late in the second period was nullified because video review ruled that the net behind Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was off its moorings before the puck crossed the goal line. Instead of leading 4-1, the Sens tried to nurse a two-goal lead through the final 20 minutes.

They couldn't.

Pittsburgh killed the penalty assessed to Sergei Gonchar on the nullified goal -- for hooking Matt Cullen on the breakaway that started the play -- and took off from there. The Penguins stormed out of the gate in the third and got goals from Bill Guerin and Matt Cooke to force OT.

Suddenly, Ottawa looked like a team that had laid it all on the line two nights earlier to just force this game and the hope of a Game 7 on Monday. The Senators looked like a team missing two top-six forwards – Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek – and a top defenseman. They looked unsure and skittish as the champs found that extra gear that winners possess.

At the 9:56 mark of overtime, it was done. Ottawa's dreams of the upset were dashed.

Jordan Staal, seasoned by two previous playoff runs, took advantage of rookie defenseman Erik Karlsson behind the Ottawa net, forcing a turnover. He waited patiently until vet Pascal Dupuis presented himself before he threaded a perfect pass. Dupuis never hesitated in snapping a wrister through the legs of goalie Pascal Leclaire, who had been very good to that point.

"I thought we showed a lot of character," Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips said. "We were only a few minutes away from forcing a Game 7. I don't usually read the papers or listen to much stuff, but I don't think there were too many people who believed we could do it.

"The guys in that room believed it and we gave it everything we had. We made mistakes that cost us. In terms of effort and try, you couldn't ask for more. It's disappointing."

"Disappointing" was one term. Other players called it "crushing." In the end, the inability to settle upon terms to describe the void of not having another game to play seemed unimportant.

It was an exercise for which captain Daniel Alfredsson had little patience. He played through pain throughout this series, a pain intensified when he took a hard, clean hit from Sidney Crosby earlier in the series. Yet he managed to play well, scoring 8 points. Yet, all he knows that another year has passed without winning a Stanley Cup.

He has no idea when the opportunity will present itself again. But, after playing in his 1,000th regular-season game this season, Alfredsson knows his opportunities are running short.

"You don't know when you will be in the playoffs again," Alfredsson said. "That's why  it felt so good playing as good as we did in Game 5," Alfredsson said. "Today, again, I thought we could get it to a Game 7, but unfortunately we couldn't."

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