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Sarge's last stand?

If the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Montreal goes down as his last stand with the Penguins, Sergei Gonchar admits he is unsatisfied with the way his five-year tenure ended.

Gonchar would prefer not to be remembered for allowing Canadiens winger Travis Moen to get past him at the blue line to score a short-handed goal in the Penguins' 5-2 Game 7 loss Wednesday at Mellon Arena.

"I am not satisfied, and it has nothing to do with free agency," said Gonchar, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. "As a team, I felt like we had a good chance in that series. But it didn't work out."

Now, Sarge is in charge of his future.

The team's top defenseman and power-play quarterback left the Igloo Friday to go to Germany for the IIHF World Hockey Championships amid uncertainty over whether he will return to play for the Penguins next season.

"Walking out of here and not knowing if you're going to come back, it's not a great feeling," Gonchar said. "But we have plenty of time until July 1."

Gonchar said he met with Penguins general manager Ray Shero yesterday and plans to speak with him again before the opening of free agency. His agent, JP Barry, agreed in March to resume negotiations after the season.

Gonchar is one of eight unrestricted free agents for the Penguins, along with defensemen Mark Eaton, Jordan Leopold and Jay McKee and wingers Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

After completing a five-year, $25 million deal, Gonchar is expected to be seeking a multi-year deal at the same annual salary. Gonchar said the length of the contract will "not necessarily" be a sticking point in negotiations.

"I'd like to stay here, but the deal has to work for both sides," Gonchar said. "We're not going to look at my contract and say it's the last one. We're going to weigh in everything - the city, the fans, the length of it, the teammates, the coaches."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma pointed out that Gonchar, 36, would be the same age as the 39-year-old Guerin at the end of a three-year deal.

Gonchar, an alternate captain who has served as a confidante and father figure to fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin, was productive in scoring 11 goals and 50 points despite missing 20 regular-season games with a broken wrist and added two goals and 12 points in 13 playoff games.

"That's what Gonchar delivers, and I think he can deliver into the future for our team, for our power play," Bylsma said.

If Gonchar elects to sign elsewhere, the Penguins have a pair of potential replacements in Kris Letang for the top defensive pairing with Brooks Orpik and Alex Goligoski as the point man on the power play.

"I've always run power plays - I feel comfortable in that role," Goligoski said. "That being said, we're hoping to have 'Gonch' back. He's unbelievable at running the power play. He's a great defenseman."

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