RALEIGH, N.C. -- Justin Williams sat in his locker stall hugging his son, Jaxon, and daughter, Jade, consoling them, and them consoling him, after the Carolina Hurricanes' 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday.
The Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Hurricanes' season ended by being swept in the best-of-7 series.
Williams, who was still wearing all of his equipment except for his jersey long after his teammates had undressed, seemed to be having trouble coming to grips with that.
[WATCH: Bruins vs. Hurricanes Game 4 highlights | Complete series coverage]
"It's always tough to swallow when the season ends just abruptly like that," Williams said, fighting back tears. "It's just like you're cut real quick and you've got to go home. I just told my kids I was planning on going to Boston tomorrow, but I'll be home tomorrow after school.
"So life goes on."
After 18 seasons in the NHL, three of which ended with him raising the Stanley Cup, Williams understands that better than anyone on the Hurricanes. They were one of the League's youngest teams with an average age of 26, but Williams, the Hurricanes captain, will turn 38 on Oct. 4 and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
"I don't know what his plans are, but he also knows that the likelihood of getting back this far is rare," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's tough. I think there's almost more disappointment for older guys than younger guys because the young guys don't know. You tell them, 'You may never get back here' and they're like, 'Yeah, right. Whatever.' But when they're four, five six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years down from here, they're going to (think),' Yeah, he was right.'
"And I think [Williams] is just probably at that point where he needs to reflect a little."
Video: BOS@CAR, Gm4: Brind'Amour on Hurricanes' run
Whatever Williams' future is, Carolina's is bright. It exceeded expectations this season, qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009. Then, the Hurricanes upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round before sweeping the New York Islanders in the second round.
"We overachieved, there's no (other) way you can look at it," Brind'Amour said. "You can look at these last four games and go, 'That wasn't very pretty,' but if you take the whole picture of what went on here, it's pretty impressive, in my opinion."
The Hurricanes appeared to run out of gas and against a deeper, more skilled Bruins team with a red-hot goalie in Tuukka Rask that is firing on all cylinders. Even with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara sitting out Game 4 because of an undisclosed injury, the Hurricanes mustered 24 shots on goal, including 11 over the final two periods.
Carolina also never found a solution to Boston's power play, which went 2-for-3 on Thursday and 7-for-15 in the series, and couldn't fix its own. After scoring three seconds into their first opportunity in Game 1, the Hurricanes couldn't convert on their final 13 power plays of the series and finished the playoffs 5-for-52 with the man-advantage (9.6 percent).
That included two failed chances in the first period Thursday when an early goal -- and a lead -- would have meant the world. The Bruins scored first in each of the four games and trailed for only 13:08 in the series.
"Their power play was better, their penalty kill was better, and we couldn't get anything past Rask," Williams said. "We scored one goal in two games here at home."
That's why David Pastrnak's power-play goal that gave Boston a 1-0 lead 4:46 into the second period felt so deflating for Carolina. Pastrnak worked a give-and-go with Brad Marchand on his left on the rush and drove to the net to redirect the return pass.
After outshooting the Boston 13-11 in the first period, Carolina managed four shots on Rask in the second and went a stretch of 14:00 without one before Patrice Bergeron extended the lead to 2-0 with a power-play goal from just inside the right circle with 1:26 left in the second.
That 2-0 lead was unsurmountable with Rask playing so well and the Bruins blocking 18 shots over the second and third periods. Bergeron made it 3-0 at 10:32 of the third and Marchand's empty-net goal with 2:17 left brought a feeling of finality to Carolina's season.
"We have to learn from this and I'm sure we [will]," Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho said. "At the moment, it stinks, you know? It hurts. Kind of a tough way to end the season, but we're going to look at the big picture and remember this feeling and hope that helps us in the future."
As much as it hurts, the Hurricanes received a final lift from the sellout crowd of 19,041 which stood and cheered for the final 90 seconds. It was a reminder of how far Carolina has come this season, and reason to hope it can do it again next season.
"At the start of the season, we wanted to get back to relevancy and we wanted more, but I feel like being one of the final four teams playing we accomplished that," Hurricanes center Jordan Staal said. "And for a young team, knowing that we can build off of that is promising and I think the fans understand that. I think this city understands that and you can see they're excited about this group, as we are.
"We want to continue to be the team every year continually playing like that, playing in these [big] games."
Video: Bruins sweep Hurricanes, clinch Cup Final berth
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