You can’t get any closer to the Fi­nal than that

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

Bobby Ryan was stand­ing be­side the net, help­lessly watch­ing Chris Ku­nitz beat Craig An­der­son to end the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors’ sea­son in dou­ble over­time of the Eastern Conference fi­nal.

It all felt like it was hap­pen­ing in slow mo­tion, the hopes of a team that was never sup­posed to get this far sud­denly dashed.

“It’s just ut­ter dis­be­lief watch­ing that go in the net,” Ryan said af­ter the 3-2 de­feat on Thurs­day night.

The Sens were that close to de­fy­ing the odds all the way to the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal; that close to up­end­ing the de­fend­ing champs; that close to deny­ing Sid­ney Crosby one more chance at an­other ring.

Few could have imag­ined such a thing at train­ing camp or even be­some­what fore the start of the post-sea­son for that mat­ter.

Ot­tawa was hardly a sure thing to even make the play­offs, let alone win two rounds and push the Pen­guins to dou­ble over­time of Game 7.

“I think that we did ev­ery­thing we could in our power and at the end of the day it could’ve gone ei­ther way, but they did it for a lit­tle bit longer than we did and a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” Erik Karls­son said.

Karls­son was rea­son No. 1 for the Sens’ stun­ning spring suc­cess.

Af­ter an al­ready bril­liant reg­u­lar sea­son, which should earn him a third Nor­ris tro­phy, the Ot­tawa cap­tain just seemed to hit an­other level. He drove the Se­na­tors past Bos­ton in the first round with six as­sists, added two goals and five more as­sists in the sec­ond round against New York and while slowed against Pittsburgh, still came up with five as­sists — in­clud­ing set-ups of Mark Stone and Ryan Dzin­gel in Game 7.

The 26-year-old did it all through in­jury.

Then there was An­der­son, the Game 6 hero who al­most lifted his team back to the Cup fi­nal for the first time since 2007. He was sen­sa­tional again with 39 stops in Game 7.

The Sens, more broadly, be­came the kind of team Guy Boucher en­vi­sioned when he took over as head coach one year ago. They won by play­ing it close, block­ing shots, and crowd­ing the neu­tral zone. De­fence was their means to nearly win­ning the At­lantic Divi­sion, to slip­ping past the Bru­ins and Rangers and nearly top­pling the Pen­guins.

It was a formula that left lit­tle mar­gin for er­ror and one that made Ot­tawa such an un­likely conference fi­nal­ist. Whether it’s sus­tain­able into the fu­ture is largely in ques­tion, but Ryan thought the deep drive proved some­thing to “naysay­ers” and “crit­ics.”

“I don’t think we proved any­thing to our­selves,” said the 30year-old Ryan, ea­ger to re­turn to Ot­tawa af­ter the bit­ter de­feat. “We had a tremen­dous amount of be­lief in our­selves that we de­served ev­ery game that we got to play this late into May. Maybe we proved some things to the hockey world, but one shot away.”

This was a group that seemed to re­ally be­lieve in what it was do­ing and one pulled to­gether by cir­cum­stance be­yond the rink. Whether it was An­der­son’s in­spir­ing play through a tax­ing per­sonal or­deal — with wife Ni­cholle bat­tling can­cer — or Clarke MacArthur’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­turn from con­cus­sion trou­bles, the Sens had plenty to help them bond.

An­der­son, tellingly, said he’d re­mem­ber this team for the “love” he felt from team­mates.

GENE J. PUSKAR, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ot­tawa Se­na­tors goalie Craig An­der­son and Bobby Ryan re­act as the game-win­ning shot by Pittsburgh Pen­guins’ Chris Ku­nitz set­tles in the goal, end­ing their sea­son.

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