OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators weren't quite ready to go their separate ways.
Emotionally drained after a deep playoff run came to an end with a Game 7 double overtime loss this week in Pittsburgh, the Senators cleaned out their lockers Saturday still thinking about what might have been.
"I think it's going to take a while to get over to be honest with you," said defenceman Dion Phaneuf. "When you come in today and you have the final meeting, you reflect and you see the guys and it's a tough day because we went through a lot as a team. It's a special group, one that I'll never forget being a part of."
Few hockey observers expected Ottawa to make it to the Eastern Conference final, yet alone come a goal away from knocking off the powerhouse Penguins. The Senators said they will use the playoff run as motivation for next season.
"You gain a new appreciation of how hard it is to get this far, especially in the post-season, and what it takes mentally and physically," said defenceman Marc Methot. "But to know that you can do it and you're on a team that is fully capable of going that far ... we know we can do that again. I just want another opportunity, that's all I'm really thinking about."
Captain Erik Karlsson, who played with fractures in his left heel, said the experience will be invaluable to the Senators in the long run.
"We moved in the right direction, we moved forward," said Karlsson. "We're happy with where we ended up, but at the same time we're not satisfied … we gained a lot of experience from it and we've got to use it to our advantage and come in next season and be ready for whatever it's going to throw at us."
The Senators faced adversity right from the start of the season. They found a way to gain strength and support from each other.
Veteran forward Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion after being hit in a scrimmage during training camp. A few weeks later, the team learned that No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson would be out indefinitely after his wife, Nicholle, was diagnosed with throat cancer.
Despite the many hurdles, the Senators persevered.
Netminder Mike Condon was acquired and he helped Ottawa stay on track by making 27 consecutive appearances in Anderson's absence. Condon is an unrestricted free agent, but has said he would like to remain with the team and is hopeful a deal can be signed before July 1.
Anderson returned to the team in early February and was one of the best players down the stretch and through the playoffs. On the morning of Game 7, he learned his wife's cancer was in remission.
On Saturday, Nicholle shared the news publicly, tweeting: "The two words we prayed to hear...CANCER FREE!"
MacArthur, meanwhile, was expected to walk away from the game after failing a baseline test in mid-January. But the 32-year-old shocked his teammates when he returned to action April 4 and he remained in the lineup for the remainder of the season.
However, he has been dealing with some discomfort in his neck and will undergo an MRI exam.
"I just want to take a week or two here and see how I feel," MacArthur said. "Obviously I still love playing the game. I need to talk to the doctors again.
"If everything works out I'm going to (continue to) play if I can."
Defenceman Mark Borowiecki, who was out of the lineup since Game 2 of the opening round of the playoffs, said he had suffered a high ankle sprain. He also revealed he had played part of the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, but wouldn't require surgery.
Forward Alex Burrows, who missed the last four games against Pittsburgh, was also sidelined by a high ankle sprain. He would have been able to play if the Senators had reached the Cup final. Defenceman Cody Ceci revealed that he had been playing with a broken finger.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press