BOSTON - The Boston Bruins went to the TD Garden for Game 7 of their playoff series against Montreal knowing that someone's season would end.
They just never considered it might be theirs.
"Oh, it's tough to swallow," defenceman Johnny Boychuk said after a 3-1 loss to the Canadiens eliminated the Bruins. "We have such a good team. It shouldn't be."
With two trips to the Stanley Cup finals in three years and the NHL's best record this regular season, the Bruins have established themselves among the league's elite. Defenceman Zdeno Chara, forward Patrice Bergeron and goalie Tuukka Rask are all up for NHL honours.
But in a seven-game series against their Original Six rivals, the Bruins couldn't find the form that helped them amass 117 points in the regular season.
Chara was uncharacteristically indecisive on Montreal breakaway. David Krejci and Brad Marchand—key scorers in the two runs to the Cup finals—did not score a goal in these playoffs.
"Maybe it was a lack of focus or I didn't bear down enough, but I didn't come up big when the team needed me and (it's) very frustrating," Marchand said. "It's really tough. I think we expected to go all the way this year. It's very tough; it's very disappointing. It's hard to really put into words. We expected a lot more."
Coach Claude Julien said the team struggled to overcome injuries on defence to defenceman Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid. That left them relying on a lot of young players, including Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, who played well in the series, and Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski, who didn't.
"You could see tonight that there was a lot of nervousness," Julien said. "This time of year, you've got to play your best hockey of the year. And I don't think we got to that point. I don't think we played badly but we certainly weren't playing as well as we could to be a team that would move ahead."
Despite the injuries, the Bruins coasted through the regular season to 54 wins, then eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in five games. After dropping the opener at home to Montreal, the Bruins came back to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
But Montreal's Olympic gold medal-winning goalie Carey Price shut the Bruins out 4-0 in Game 6 to force the series back to Boston for a decisive seventh game. And then he held them to a single goal in the finale.
"When you know that you have a team that was so good and consistent throughout the whole season, and you have a good enough team to win more than one series," it takes a while to sink in, Chara said. "It's something that you're going to be thinking about. I'll be thinking about it for sure quite a bit."