BOSTON - It's still too painful for Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to look back at his team's epic collapse in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He'd prefer to think about the NHL's June draft, when Boston has the No. 2 overall pick and a chance to select a scorer who can take the franchise into the future.
"That's a feel-good story," Chiarelli told reporters on Tuesday, "so maybe you guys can write that."
Less than a week after the biggest collapse in NHL playoff history, the Bruins emptied out their lockers and headed into the franchise's 38th straight summer without a Stanley Cup. Chiarelli promised changes, but he vowed not to overreact to the way things ended and instead consider the way the Bruins qualified for the playoffs on the final weekend, then advanced to second round for the second straight year.
"I think you have to build on stuff like that," Chiarelli said, noting that only five teams have reached the conference semifinals in each of the last two years. "You look at deficiencies in our game and address them. But I don't just look at deficiencies in that series. I have to look at the whole team."
The Bruins' deficiencies didn't start hurting them until after they won the first three games of the best-of-seven series against Philadelphia. The Flyers came back to force a decisive seventh game and then rallied again—this time from a three-goal deficit—to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
"I guess it really happened," forward Patrice Bergeron said, standing in front of his empty stall in the Bruins locker room. "It's a tough day, and you always want that day to never come. You always want to keep going."
Only twice before has an NHL team come back to win a series after losing the first three games, and neither of them trailed 3-0 in Game 7. It's the fourth straight Game 7 loss for the Bruins, the third year in a row they've lost a deciding game and the second consecutive season in which they've lost the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals at home.
"We failed in that situation to put that final nail in the coffin. We had four opportunities to win one game, and we didn't accomplish that," coach Claude Julien said.
"There is no doubt we have to live with this. No matter what we say, we have to live with this. It happened. But at the same time I have to start preparing for next year. And it can't start soon enough. ... I can't wait for next season to start. It's as simple as that."
Chiarelli has some decisions to make before then.
Defencemen Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk are unrestricted free agents, along with aging forwards Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan. Goalie Tim Thomas—the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and U.S. Olympic backup—lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask midway through the season and the Bruins will try to trade him if anyone will take the three years and US$14 million left on his contract.
"If you don't want to play, you're in the wrong business, I guess," Thomas said, insisting that he hadn't had time to digest all that happened during the year. "In a team sport like this, you've got to be the best teammate you can be. When you're in the middle of it, you can't afford to think about it."
But the Bruins will be getting some help, too.
They picked up the No. 2 overall selection in the draft when they traded Phil Kessel last year. That will yield either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, who tied for the Ontario Hockey League scoring lead this season with 106 points.
Edmonton will get the other, and though the Bruins are said to covet Hall—Bobby Orr is his agent, and his favourite player—Chiarelli is keeping it to himself.
"We are going to get a really good player, and it is going to be one of those two forwards," he said. "History has shown that these players generally take half a year or a year to really get going, but both Seguin and Hall are both really good players."
Chiarelli said 12 players were on the injury report he received from the medical staff after the final game, "but I'm sure Philly had a lot of them, too." Most of the injuries aren't expected to linger into next season, though Marco Sturm will need about six months to recover from surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Andrew Ference will need six to eight weeks to recover from a hernia, Chiarelli said.
There were also a lot of bruised egos, including owner Jeremy Jacobs.
"I spoke with him after the game, and spoke with him the next day a couple of times. He is obviously disappointed," Chiarelli said. "I think he expected me to be in the office on Saturday morning finding that last minor league free agent list; maybe I should have been. He is a proud fan too. They weren't easy conversations that I had with him, but that is how you get better."