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Bruins Postseason Hopes Come to Disappointing End in Tampa

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

TAMPA, Fla. - The Bruins entered Saturday night with a chance.

By the time the puck dropped on Game 82 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they were relying not only on themselves to pick up a win, but on the Pittsburgh Penguins to drop a loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

It shouldn't have come to this, but it did.

By the time Boston trailed Tampa Bay 2-1 early in the third, it didn't matter if they pushed to earn the two points. Halfway through the third period, the Bruins knew their fate, with Pittsburgh's 2-0 win over Buffalo.

For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Spoked-B wouldn't be in the postseason.

"Well, I think everybody's pretty down right now. When you don't make the playoffs, as you know, you've failed," Head Coach Claude Julien said postgame from Tampa, following a 3-2 shootout loss to the Bolts that would have no implications moving forward.

"You like to think that everybody in there is a proud athlete and is certainly not taking this lightly, and I know all of us seem to be feeling the same way right now. Disappointing, to say the least, it's a failed season for us."

Right from the drop of the puck in Tampa, the Bruins were ready to go for the do-or-die situation.

The Bruins outshot the Lightning early, not allowing a shot on Tuukka Rask until about eight minutes into the game. They fell down 1-0 early in the second period, but tied it up 1-1 just 52 seconds later. Loui Eriksson jammed in his 22nd of the season from the doorstep after Chris Kelly stayed with a rebound.

The Bruins kept their foot on the gas after netting the equalizer. They were playing to win. It prompted thoughts about where an effort like this had been in Florida and Washington, D.C.

"Exactly," said Patrice Bergeron. "I mean. Yeah. It was a good effort. But bottom line is we were in control, leaving Boston, going to Washington, and it never should have come down to [Saturday night]."

"It's disappointing, not just this trip, but the whole season," said David Krejci. "It was a lot of up and down. No reason to make any excuses."

"I felt like before the season, we had the team to not just make the playoffs, but make a push. But obviously we didn't even get in, so it's a big disappointment."

The Bolts struck to make it 2-1 in the third, getting a deflection past Rask, who made his 70th appearance of the season, marking the most games played by a Boston goaltender since Ed Johnston's 70 in 1963-64.

"Our bread and butter has always been playing hard and a gritty kind of hockey checking team, and that wasn't the case [this season]," said Rask. "I don't know why, but definitely wasn't the case. We showed it - like [on Saturday], we played a heck of a game."

"We showed it at times, but when you do it every now and then, it's not going to be good enough."

"I mean, consistency's been an issue all year and when you come down to the wire like that, you definitely shoot yourself in the foot," said Bergeron. "In the first place, I think we never should have come to this point, and we had a lot more chances to get ourselves in the playoffs before that, and we definitely lacked consistency and it showed for that."

Like countless times throughout the season, the Bruins had chances that they didn't execute, but still, they pressed.

They pressed when they didn't know the outcome of the Pittsburgh game, and they continued to press even after the 2-0 final score over Buffalo was flashed on the scoreboard inside Amalie Arena.

"They put it up on the big screen there, at one point in the third period, and so I think we all kind of saw that and you know, tough to swallow," said Brad Marchand. "But we wanted to try to finish the game strong and try and finish on a good note."

Marchand scored with 1:06 left in regulation while an extra attacker was on to tie the game at 2-2 and force overtime. Even if the Bruins would eventually fall 3-2 in the shootout, it says something that they were able to continue playing, knowing full well the destiny that awaited them after Game 82.

"You know what, you've got to give these guy a lot of credit, because they still played with pride," said Julien.

They even pushed in overtime, and laid out to block shots. Rask made sharp stops till the end.

"It could have been easy to get really upset at seeing the scoreboard and just kind of losing focus in your game, but you know, they battled hard right till the end," said Julien. "So that's a credit to the players, and it's unfortunate - we probably could have used a lot more of that as we were battling for playoffs."

The Bruins finished the 2014-15 season with 96 points, a total that would have been good to make the postseason in any other year.

"Well, it's - I don't know, it's - I don't know what the word would be," said Rask, trying to slowly find the words to explain the emotions he was feeling. "But it's just - disappointing. Really disappointing."

"But you know, we had so many chances to fix our game and play better and clinch a spot, and we didn't. So at the end of the day, you get what you deserve and at the end of the day, this is exactly what you deserve."

"You know, we had 96 points, so a lot of years, that would have been probably good enough. So you can't say the we totally tanked, but you know, obviously, we couldn't take the last step."

It was a foreign situation for the Bruins. They had played nearly all 82 games with meaning. The last one fell short of that.

Even if the Black and Gold hadn't seen the final Pittsburgh score on the massive blueline to blueline video board hanging over center ice, the Lightning fans in Amalie Arena made sure they knew.

They started chanting , "Hey, hey, hey, good-bye" halfway through the third period.

"It's a surreal feeling," Marchand said, downtrodden and fighting through his words. "You know, I don't think any of us really expected to be in this position at any point during the season. It's just hard to believe that hockey's done for the year, and that's tough to swallow. It obviously means that we didn't do our jobs this year."

"I've never been through this, so it's tough," said a distraught Milan Lucic. "I mean, you do whatever you can to give yourselves a chance to play for the Cup, and now you don't even get a chance to play for it, so it's a terrible, horrible feeling."

"Obviously there's a lot of regrets on what happened this season - just want to make sure coming back that this never happens again."

The Bruins saw many ups and downs during a roller coaster season, once that will be digested more in the coming days.

"Honestly, it felt like a playoff. Played like 15 playoff series out there," said Rask. "It was just, it was tough. But we battled."

"It is kind of crazy that you play 81 games and you can't figure out who's going to make it, and it comes down to the last game. But you know, at times, like [Saturday night], we looked like a playoff team out there, we played a great game, but when you can't sustain that, game in, game out, then I guess you just get what you deserve and not make the playoffs."

This 2014-15 Bruins' team and its core weren't completely ready to put a bookend on an underachieving season.

"I think this is a great team. I think the core group is full of great players and we play hard for one another, we enjoy spending time with one another, and there's that bond there and this year was just a difficult year," Chris Kelly said emphatically.

It's that notion that makes another tough ending for this group - an ending that's extremely tough to take, even if it's from their own doing.

How did they end up in this situation?

"It's hard to really put all the games into a few words," said Zdeno Chara. "We could have been better, we could have been more consistent throughout the year. It's been a tough year for us all around. I think that everybody could have been better."

"It's the last thing I was thinking about," said Bergeron, still trying to process everything. "I mean, never thought that we would be in this situation, and it's definitely - you know, it's hard to get my head around it right now."

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