BOSTON -- Zdeno Chara sat slumped in his corner stall in the Boston Bruins dressing room, drenched in sweat after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden, a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday that left him and his teammates crushed.
The Bruins captain looked around the room, his eyes slowly moving from one scrum to another as reporters surrounded his teammates, looking for answers as to why the Bruins fell short in their quest to win their first Stanley Cup championship since a seven-game victory against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. He slowly bent down and unstrapped the bulky brace from his left knee and stayed bent over, trying to process his disappointment.
Amid a painful end, Chara was already looking ahead.
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"We can be proud of what we've done, but we just came up short," Chara said. "Sometimes those downs make you stronger, and I believe this team still has potential to get back to the Final and get it done."
The series loss hurt the defenseman in more ways than one. Chara is 6-8 in an NHL-record 14 Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs over 21 seasons, and he lost his second straight Cup Final; the Bruins lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in 2013.
Then there were the facial injuries he sustained in Game 4 against the Blues when he took a puck to the face in the second period and left the game. He played the final three games, wearing a clear plastic shield to protect his face.
The Bruins thought they could finish the job in Game 7 this time, especially after a 5-1 win at St. Louis in Game 6 three days earlier. But Boston was doomed by an inability to score on Jordan Binnington in the first period, when it outshot St. Louis 12-4, and defensive lapses late in the first and third periods.
"I thought we might get a goal earlier in the game, but that didn't come to light," Chara said after the Bruins did not score until Matt Grzelcyk's goal with 2:10 left in the third. "Yeah, I thought we battled hard. Like I said, if you look at it it's such a tough moment to kind of reflect on right after.
"This group battled really hard all year long, we overcame some adversity, some challenges, I'm really proud of this team. There is for sure a lot of character in this room, I'm sure there is a bright future for this team."
Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Rask gets help from Chara at goal line
The character was molded by Chara's leadership, his teammates reiterated Wednesday. Grzelcyk, a defenseman, sits a few stalls away from the 42-year-old and has been amazed by him.
"That is why he is the captain," said Grzelcyk, who played in Game 7 after missing four games with a concussion sustained in Game 2. "Leads by example and is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen. He's a legend for a reason.
"Playing through a broken jaw, not many players would do what he did. He has been through a lot and he means a lot to us. We certainly wouldn't be anywhere near here without him."
Center Patrice Bergeron has played with Chara since the 2006-07 season, Bergeron's third in Boston. He has seen Chara achieve great success, including helping the Bruins to that championship in 2011. But he was in awe of how Chara pulled himself together and played through considerable pain in the final three games of this series.
"It speaks about the type of guy he is, his character," Bergeron said. "Like I said, we've been a close group all year and, you know, for him to do that and to be selfless like he was, that was unbelievable."
Chara is signed through next season and plans to be back with a team that will likely look very similar to the one that fell one game short this season.
"It's hard to find words," Chara said. "It's not easy. I'm sure everyone pictured it differently. We believed that it was there for us. That's sport. You have to take those and move on."