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Despite sting of playoff defeat, Senators optimistic heading into the off-season

OTTAWA - The sting of playoff disappointment might still be fresh, but the Ottawa Senators were an optimistic bunch as they cleaned out their lockers Saturday.

The Senators held a 3-2 series lead against the first-place New York Rangers, but couldn't close the deal in their Eastern Conference quarter-final, falling to the No. 1 seed in seven games.

"I believe you have to score your way to the Stanley Cup, not defend your way," coach Paul MacLean said in his final meeting with the media. "We didn't score enough goals."

Despite the loss, the Senators saw plenty of positives heading into the off-season. The 2011-12 campaign had been viewed as a rebuilding year and the fact the Senators advanced to the playoffs was huge accomplishment for the entire organization.

"We know what type of team we are now," centre Jason Spezza said. "We're under the understanding that the bar is going to be raised moving forward because of what we've done.

"We've proven that we can be a good team and we go through the summer knowing we have to push ourselves because when we show up here in September we're not going to be picked to finish 15th. We're not going to have low expectations and we have to be ready to go and our expectation has to be to win."

MacLean was hired last off-season and was instrumental in not only the on-ice success, but the team's overall attitude.

"We had a lot of fun," winger Nick Foligno said. "We had a great group of guys to make it fun in the locker-room, great leadership and guys in place that you enjoyed coming to work every day and going out there and battling hard for each other.

"We probably accomplished all the things we did this year because of that. We really played for one another and you could feel it in the room."

As with every off-season, there will undoubtedly be some personnel changes as Senators general manager Bryan Murray has a number of decisions to make.

The team has five restricted free agents, the most notable being defenceman Erik Karlsson. In addition Murray will have to deal with forwards Kaspars Daugavins, Jim O'Brien, Peter Regin and Foligno.

"I'm not worried about Erik, we'll get a deal done," Murray said. "It's not going to be hurry up by any means. We'll talk over the next few weeks to his agent to start, but there's no immediate demand.

"We're not playing right away, he's a restricted free agent and we'll get him signed."

Murray also said he issued a challenge to Foligno to be better. Foligno, who played on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Kyle Turris, finished the season with 15 goals and 47 points, but Murray said that if that line had "one more guy who could score consistently or be a 20-25 goal scorer that would really make our team different."

Murray said he asked Foligno point blank if he could be that guy, and the 24-year-old said he could. Now the challenge is for Foligno to prove it.

The Senators also await Alfredsson's decision on whether or not he will return. The 39-year-old is pondering retirement and will take the next few weeks to make a decision.

"It's been a great year, but it's been a long year physically and mentally," said Alfredsson. "Do I have the energy and motivation to get ready for another year because I know I just can't take the summer off and come to camp and hope I will do well.

"If I want to play I want to play at as high level as I can and that means you have to go through a summer of hard workouts and getting ready to play a full season."

Murray also said he will not automatically qualify all of his unrestricted free agents.

Regin, who missed the majority of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, could find himself the odd man out.

Murray could face some tougher decisions when it comes to the team's unrestricted free agents, which include defencemen Filip Kuba, Matt Carkner and Matt Gilroy, as well as forwards Jesse Winchester, Zenon Konopka and Rob Klinkhammer.

While Kuba said he would like to return, he may prove to be too expensive. The 35-year-old made US$3.7 million this season and could fetch more on the open market.

"There's no question some decisions need to be made on the blue-line," Murray said. "I think offensively on the blue-line we're real good. Erik Karlsson, if he can come back and grow into what he is now and a little more, and (Jared) Cowen gets better and we've got (Chris) Phillips and (Sergei) Gonchar under contract.

"We have to find out if one of these other guys we have will come back and be solid or do we have to go get another guy, but we definitely need another defensive defenceman."

Notes: Karlsson has been invited to play for Sweden at the world hockey championship, but the team is trying to work out insurance on his contract because he is a restricted free agent. ... Daugavins will represent Latvia at the world championship. ... Spezza had expressed his willingness to play for Canada, but was told the roster was already set. ... Winchester said he missed the last three games of the series due to concussion-like symptoms. Winchester missed 44 games earlier in the season with a concussion and said symptoms returned during Game 4. ... Konopka said he was dealing with severe back pain during the final two games of the series.

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