Bruins left to lament bitter ending

— -- BOSTON -- None of it matters now -- home ice, the President's Trophy, the near bionic recovery of Dennis Seidenberg, the Vezina that will likely have Tuukka Rask's name engraved in crisp, gleaming letters.

It all feels so meaningless, empty accolades in a suddenly hollow Boston Bruins season that abruptly ended Wednesday night under the worst scenario they could have possibly envisioned: a thorough 3-1 beating at the hands of their bitter rival, the Montreal Canadiens, in Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals at home.

Welcome to hockey hell. The boys in the spoked B's will reside there for the next four months as they try to comprehend how they allowed the Canadiens to dictate the terms of this series and how they chose the first period of this win-or-go home contest to play their worst 20 minutes of hockey all season.

"It's going to be tough to swallow this one," said Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic.

No kidding. The heavily favored Bruins, in case you've forgotten, were ahead 3-2 in this series. They were playing on their own ice with a frenzied crowd poised to propel them to the next round. They should have been able to capitalize on the advantage they toiled all season to create.

Instead, they lost their edge, and then they lost their nerve.

With a roster that includes such redoubtable names as Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and David Krejci, the Bruins looked tight, uncertain about their game plan and completely out of sync.

When asked to characterize his team's overall effort, Bergeron replied, "On and off, I guess."

On and off? Huh? How could a veteran team loaded with Stanley Cup champions falter so badly when it mattered most? Where was the leadership? Asked about their underwhelming first period, captain Chara conceded his team was "kind of hesitant."

That aptly describes the overall vibe that Chara gave off throughout this series. He looked a step slow, a tad uncertain. He was completely overshadowed by resident villain and Canadiens dynamo P.K. Subban, who boldly proclaimed he couldn't wait to mix it up in Game 7 at the Garden, couldn't wait for it to get "nasty," couldn't wait for it to get "dirty," couldn't wait to be in that handshake line when the horn sounded, because, as he predicted, "You know what? We're going to be there at the end, there standing tall."

Subban backed it up. Every word. He derived motivation from Shawn Thornton spraying water on his visor, from Lucic mocking him by flexing his muscles. His teammates chimed in by claiming Boston disrespected them (Rodney Harrison would be proud), and used the perceived slight to fuel their narrative.

"Like I said," Subban crowed afterward, "there's nothing better than shutting everybody up in here."

The Canadiens did so by proving to be smarter, more disciplined and more composed. Though it was the Bruins who finished third in the NHL in the regular season in goals scored, it was the Habs that finished their scoring opportunities. Boston, conversely, scored one goal in the final two games. The only way they beat  Carey Price was when Jarome Iginla redirected a Torey Krug shot in the second period.

Rask had no chance on either of the first two goals that whizzed past him Wednesday night, yet the first one was the most egregious and the most crippling.

A mere 2:18 into the game, defenseman Matt Bartkowski allowed Dale Weise to slip behind him, at which point Daniel Briere steered a pass across the crease onto Weise's stick to exploit the breakdown.

For the second time in as many games (young defenseman Kevan Miller coughed up the puck in the opening moments of Game 6), Montreal had jumped out to an early 1-0 lead as the result of a Boston miscue.

"They get that early goal again on a defensive mistake by us," said Rask. "You always try to get better in a series. That was not the case for us defensively.

"It ended up costing us the series."

Tuukka should not bear the responsibility for this hugely disappointing loss. He put his team in position to win.

Even so, the best goalie in this series was Price. He was outstanding again in Game 7, withstanding a late-game barrage from the Bruins, who finally exhibited the desperation and aggression in the final two periods they sorely lacked throughout their moribund opening act.

Consider the fact Boston did not register a single shot on net for the first 6 minutes, 46 seconds of the game. And, when they finally did force Price to make a save, it was a harmless clearing of the puck to kill a Montreal power play.

During their long summer of self-reflection, the Bruins will recall pucks clanging off the pipes, the cross bar and the netting above the goal. They will wonder how David Krejci, one of the most prolific postseason scorers of all time, could finish this series without a single goal.

They will ruminate over the complete implosion of Brad Marchand, who completed his nightmarish series against the Habs last night with as many penalties (two) and giveaways (two) as he had shots on net.

"Every game I had opportunities," Marchand said. "Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. Maybe it was a lack of focus.

"I didn't come up big when the team needed me."

Boston will not undergo the kind of radical changes that appear to be in store for the underperforming Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins' core veterans aren't going anywhere, but if a sniff of change is in the air, it could well impact Marchand, who did nothing to make his case as a valued postseason performer.

The Canadiens should be applauded for their ability to irritate and distract the Bruins, for outplaying them in nearly every facet of the game, for proving to be the superior team in terms of mental toughness.

Give them the edge in postgame trash-talking as well.

"They disrespected us in every single way," Weise said. "I don't think they had any respect for us as a team. We'll leave it at that. The better team won."

If you are Bruins coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli, you are heartened that Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid will return next season to shore up a young defense that showed its inexperience at the worst possible time.

Understanding why your grizzled veterans were talking about being "hesitant" and submitting an "on and off" effort is another matter entirely.

When pressed about his team's level of effort in that opening period, Lucic snapped: "That's why we lost. That's why we lost. I can't elaborate more on that."

Sometimes, the matchups simply don't favor the higher-seeded team. Sometimes, the opposing goalie simply stands on his head. That helps to explain some of what went on in this highly charged, emotional series.

But the unexplained is what will linger: How a group of proud, decorated veteran Bruins, the ones who were favored to win it all, couldn't muster the energy and effort to go down swinging.