BOSTON -- Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Boston Bruins have lost in the first round and lost in Game 6 of the Cup Final the past two years, respectively.
There are different degrees of disappointment, and the Bruins know at least a couple of them.
"I mean at the end you did go all the way to the Finals, but it didn't feel any better when you lose," defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said Wednesday during the Bruins' breakup day at TD Garden. "But if you look back at it, I'm sure not a lot of guys have, or me, we did overcome a lot and there were a lot of injuries, young guys stepping up. Guys really sacrificed a lot and put in a lot of effort to get there."
Boston led the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1. The Bruins led Game 6, with their backs against the wall, 2-1, with less than 90 seconds to play. Then 17 seconds brought two Chicago goals and a Blackhawks celebration on Garden ice.
"I think when you get so close to winning a championship, and just the way we lost this year, where we had the lead and lost it in the last minute, it definitely hurts a little bit more just knowing that you were so close to reaching another goal and falling short," Bruins forward Daniel Paille said.
Though they still haven't had enough time for appreciation to overtake despair, the Bruins down the road will have to admit it was a remarkable run to the Cup Final. They stumbled down the stretch of the regular season with a 2-5-2 record in their last nine games. They had to deal with two postponed games because of the Boston Marathon bombings and the search for one of the suspects. They played five games in the final eight days.
When the Stanley Cup Playoffs started, the Bruins jumped out to a 3-1 series lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto pushed Boston to the brink and held a 4-1 lead in the third period of Game 7. Then the Bruins pulled off their comeback for the ages and won the game in overtime before eliminating the New York Rangers in five games and the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the next two rounds.
"So I look back at the year, and I was amazed actually, not surprised, but amazed at our push in the playoffs," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "And it was such a strong push, and there's some peaks and valleys, but when we're rolling it was impressive to watch, and it really affirmed a lot in what we as a group believed in this team, like the core and what it's capable of doing and what it did."
The core of the 2012-13 team was similar to the Bruins' roster of the past four of five years. Now that group is at a bit of a crossroads. Chiarelli has several of the key pieces -- defensemen Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg; forwards David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron -- under contract beyond this season. But there are some key free agents who won't be back and some who could be tough to retain.
That leaves goaltender Tuukka Rask, a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and forward Nathan Horton, who will be an unrestricted free agent, as the top two priorities for Chiarelli prior to the start of free agency July 5, or shortly after that date.
Chiarelli said he's hopeful he will get Rask's deal done, and said he told Horton he wanted him to come back. Horton declined to comment on his contract situation. Rask, who played on a one-year deal while proving he could be the team's No. 1 goaltender, would like to settle long-term with the team that developed him from the time he came over to North American from his native Finland.
"That would be an ideal situation, I think, to play here forever," Rask said. "I hope we can make that happen."
The players might still be looking their wounds a bit after the Blackhawks' comeback. Chiarelli, however, has gained some perspective on his team's accomplishments.
"The ending wasn't fun, and I still don't feel good about it and yesterday I didn't feel good about it," the GM said. "None of us feel good about it, but my job as a manager is to look at this season and this group from 30,000 feet and to evaluate and to make decisions going forward, and at the end of the day I can tell you that I really liked what I saw. I liked the gumption. I liked what [coach] Claude [Julien] and his staff did with groups that were mixed and matched at times. I liked the performances by [Rask], [Krejci], everybody; Lucic, [Chara], all the guys.
"So I'm feeling a little better now than this morning, than yesterday, and when I get back to my perch of 30,000 feet I'll feel even better."
If Chiarelli somehow finds a way to bring back most of the current team, count Lucic among those who's all for it.
"Obviously we've shown that we're still a championship-caliber team, and we're a team that plays with a lot of pride, and we can win," Lucic said. "Obviously that's something that management is going to have to look at in the next week, because with the lockout extending everything it's already -- what is it June 26 today? -- it's definitely been a long, long year. But I think there's a lot more from this hockey club, and I think every guy in here would say they'd like to see the same team here next year."
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