OTTAWA, Ontario - Daniel Alfredsson and the Ottawa Senators refused to forget how they felt last season after the Buffalo Sabres sent them home from the playoffs earlier than expected.

"We feel like we could have done more damage," Alfredsson said Tuesday, recalling the second-round loss. "And I think that's the way we're playing this year."

That loss might have been a blessing in disguise. Without it, the Senators might not have transformed from a free-scoring team to a disciplined, tight-checking squad.

"This time around, we are a better defensive team, so if we get up in a game, we're better suited for that," Alfredsson said.

The teams will open the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final series tonight at Buffalo.

With a record of 6-0 when scoring first, the Senators have learned to protect leads and no longer panic when games are close, going 4-2 so far in one-goal games.

Shanahan's plans. Brendan Shanahan is leaning toward returning for a 20th NHL season, and wants to stay with the New York Rangers.

The 38-year-old forward spoke Tuesday at the Rangers' training center in Greenburgh, N.Y., after his end-of-season interviews with general manager Glen Sather and coach Tom Renney.

He hasn't come to a final decision whether to continue his surefire Hall of Fame career, but that's the direction he is leaning.

"My instincts are that I will probably play, but it's something that I'm going to think over," he said.