BOSTON (AP) -Claude Julien returned the Boston Bruins to respectability. His next task: getting them past the first round of the playoffs.
Boston came very close, forcing the top-seeded Canadiens to a seventh game before losing 5-0 in front of a raucous Montreal crowd.
That may provide little consolation to members of a franchise that hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1972. But in his first year as coach, Julien built a solid defensive team that exceeded expectations despite a lack of offense.
"We're upset we lost, but we've got something to build on," said Marc Savard, the team's leading scorer.
The Bruins scored five goals in two games against the Canadiens, who won the series Monday night, but totaled just five in the other five - two of them shutouts.
Boston has made the playoffs in only four of eight seasons and hasn't won a series since beating Carolina in the first round in 1999.
Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins' best scoring threat, didn't play after the 10th game when he sustained a concussion and broke his nose when Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones knocked him unconscious with a hit from behind that smashed his face into the glass.
Just 22, Bergeron scored more than 20 goals in each of the previous two seasons. Without him, the Bruins managed just 212 goals, sixth fewest in the NHL.
"Don't forget Patrice," Savard said. "He's going to make us a better team next year, plus whatever happens this summer" in free agency or trades.
Julien is the Bruins' third coach in three seasons, and he brought stability and more coaching experience than predecessors, Mike Sullivan and Dave Lewis. The team even managed to grab some late-season spotlights from the town's powerhouses - the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots.
"There's no doubt there's going to be some excitement there getting back to work with what we've seen," Julien said.
Several young forwards showed promise, including Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Petteri Nokelainen and Vladimir Sobotka. The defense corps, led by Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward, is solid, too.
They helped Boston make the playoffs after preseason forecasters gave them little chance. The Bruins finished with the third worst record in the Eastern Conference last season.
"We proved a lot of people wrong," said Lucic, a hard-hitting, 220-pound, 19-year-old forward. "I think we can build a lot on what we did this year and carry it on to next year."
The Bruins must make a decision on their goaltender.
Tim Thomas has been the full-time starter the past two seasons. He had been expected to split the job before Manny Fernandez, obtained from Minnesota in the offseason, hurt his knee and played in only four games.
The Bruins also have highly touted goalie Tuukka Rask at their AHL team in Providence.
Thomas was surprised that the Bruins, who came back from a 3-1 deficit against Montreal, didn't finish the rally in Game 7.
"The character of this team can't be overemphasized, I don't think," he said, "for what we battled through all year and even in this seven-game series."
Near the end of the regular season, the Bruins lost three straight games, then won three in a row to clinch the last Eastern playoff spot with two games left.
But they lost the opener to Montreal 4-1, then dropped two of the next three - all one-goal decisions. They won 5-1 before overcoming three one-goal deficits to win 5-4 in Game 6 in Boston.
"We wrote a pretty good story," Ward said. "It just doesn't end the way we wanted."