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CANADIENS 2, BRUINS 0

Dry ice

Bruins vaporized in the first round again via Game 7 home loss to Canadiens

You could argue that they never should have been in the position they put themselves in.

You could argue that the Bruins should have put away the Canadiens after taking a three-games-to-one lead in the series. You could argue that even after a poor performance in Game 5, they still had the dreaded Habs right where they wanted them.

You could argue all of that, and this morning it doesn't matter one whit. The Bruins did allow Montreal to force a Game 7 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series and the Canadiens did something no team ever has done against Boston -- they rallied from that three-games-to-one deficit and beat the Bruins, 2-0, last night to eliminate Boston from the postseason.

Try choking that down with your morning coffee. The Bruins are out. Done for the summer and likely far beyond, given the NHL's impending labor strife.

Forward Richard Zednik scored at 10:52 of the third period on Montreal's first shot of the period and his goal held up as the winner. Right wing Alexei Kovalev fired a shot from the left side that hit the side of the net and bounced in front. Goalie Andrew Raycroft momentarily lost sight of the puck and Zednik swooped in and roofed it. Zednik added an empty-net tally with eight seconds remaining in the game to close out Boston's season.

Before last night, the Bruins were 17-0 in series in which they held a 3-1 lead. Of the 14 that were best-of-seven, they were 14-0.

After all the hype, the expectations, the key acquisitions, and the enthusiasm, the bottom still fell out on the Bruins' season. For the second time in three years, the Habs knocked off their division rival and are moving on to the second round. And for the third year in a row, Boston played only one round of playoff hockey. This time, because of how much they believed they could go deep into the postseason, was far more devastating to everyone in the dressing room.

"We had every chance to win that hockey game and we came up short, obviously," said center Brian Rolston. "I think we had something special here with this team and we fought hard tonight. We had plenty of chances to put it away and we didn't do that."

It came out after the game that Bruins captain Joe Thornton, held pointless and a minus-6 in the series, was playing with torn cartilage in his ribs. Coach Mike Sullivan said that injury usually requires a six-week recovery period, but Thornton missed only the last two regular-season games.

"He played under extreme pain and most players I know probably wouldn't have played under the circumstances [under which] he played," said Sullivan. "I thought Joe had his strongest game. He competed hard all over the ice, he had scoring chances, I thought he was a force physically.

"I'm sure if you asked Joe himself, he's disappointed in the way this thing turned out and the series that he had because the expectation on him is so high. I thought his game from training camp through the course of the season got better and better. He's a more complete player, he plays at both ends of the rink, and it's unfortunate the circumstances he had to start the series [under]."

It was obvious Thornton, who took shots of pain killers to play, felt miserable throughout the series, and he looked forlorn when it was over.

"It's devastating we lost this game and it's unacceptable," he said. "When we had them up, 3-1, if we just nailed that right off the hop back home [in Game 5], we were out of the series but we just couldn't seem to get it past Jose [Theodore] especially tonight. It's just too bad."

Of the positives, and there weren't many, rookie goaltender Andrew Raycroft was one. He faced 25 shots and stopped 24 of them. As well as he played, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

"I won't forget this one," he said. "1-0, Game 7 against Montreal at home. I don't think anyone in this building will ever forget it. You take the experience, learn from it, and hopefully somewhere down the line it will pay off to have been in this situation today."

But all they'll feel for now, and for a long time, is misery.

"I thought we played a great hockey game," said Sullivan. "We certainly had our chances to score goals. I thought we probably deserved a better fate tonight, but that's the nature of sports. I was proud of our players. I thought they left it all out there on the ice. I'm certainly proud of these guys. It was a privilege to coach them, they were receptive to our staff all year long, and it's disappointing from my standpoint that it ended so abruptly."

in today's globe
Bruins playoff recap
Bruins vs. Canadiens
Habs win series, 4-3
 Game 1: B's 3, Habs 0 | Gallery
 Game 2: B's 2, Habs 1 | Gallery
 Game 3: Habs 3, B's 2 | Gallery
 Game 4: B's 4, Habs 3 | Gallery
 Game 5: Habs 5, B's 1 | Gallery
 Game 6: Habs 5, B's 2 | Gallery
 Game 7: Habs 2, B's 0 | Gallery

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