MONTREAL - Zdeno Chara, the Bruins' larger-than-life defenseman, sat patiently in his stall in the visitors' locker room at the Bell Centre, his feet bare and his skates already whisked away by the equipment managers, and he considered the end of his season.
The 6-foot-9-inch captain of the Bruins, so outsized and so stern that he pounds through 12 pairs of stiff-walled skates a season, allowed himself to soften a bit around the edges as he paid homage to the difficult and exciting season that had ended moments before in a 5-0 loss to the Canadiens, allowing Montreal to win the best-of-seven first-round series, four games to three.
"In the end, you feel so empty," said Chara. "We really thought we were going to the next round. We believed we were going to get it done."
The Bruins, who battled back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the series against the top-seeded Canadiens, couldn't rally this time. First Montreal took a 1-0 lead at 3:31 of the first period, Michael Komisarek scoring on a shot from the left point that deflected off Bruin Petteri Nokelainen's stick. Unlucky.
Then Marc Streit's breakaway goal at 10:45 of the second, when he stepped around Chara in the Bruins' zone to wriggle free and slip a backhand between Tim Thomas's pads, crushed the Bruins' spirit and shattered their game plan. The Canadiens made it 3-0 on a Kostitsyn-from-Kostitsyn goal, Sergei feeding brother Andrei for a shot from the slot just after time expired on a Chara penalty for holding at 15:13 of the second.
"You can only be patient so much," said Chara. "You're down two goals, three goals - you can't just be playing the same way. You have to take chances. You have to try and score a goal and get some momentum.
"When you're behind . . . you have to take some chances, you have to open up, and sometimes you're forcing things, but that's what you have to do. You can't just be sitting back and waiting. Sometimes you really have to go for it. We did, and sometimes it doesn't work. It looked like they were really doing a good job, but also at the same time we really had a chance."
The Bruins had six power-play opportunities but failed to get anything past Montreal's rookie goaltender Carey Price. Price had a lot of help from his defensemen, who got in the way of a ton of Bruin shots. Boston was credited with 25 shots, but surely had another 10 that were dumped into the Canadiens' shinpads. Chara teed it up a handful of times from the point, but every one of his shots skidded wide or into a Canadien.
"Yeah, they did a good job on blocking shots," said Chara, who stopped to sigh. Of the penalty, he said, "I really didn't hold anybody but he called it. Right at the end of the penalty kill they scored. Sometimes that's what it is."
With a 3-0 lead, the Canadiens were able to tweak their game plan, too. "They didn't have to do much, just sit back and [it was] basically chipping pucks out of the zone and dumps into the zone," said Chara.
The Bruins' best chances were in the first period, when they outshot Montreal, 11-8.
"I really thought that first period we had some great efforts," said Chara, who admitted he had a shoulder injury throughout the playoffs. "It's hard because you're really trying hard and you want to score a goal. But the first goal, they got the momentum and they were building off of that. We never gave up, the whole game. We stick together as a team."
Like Chara, Bruins coach Claude Julien was disappointed, but he praised his team's relentless effort.
"Obviously as a coach you're pretty proud of your hockey club - they did battle right to the end," Julien said. "Whether it was done properly or not, you never question these guys' effort. They gave everything they had - everything. And that's been kind of the identity of this hockey club."
As the team's leader, Chara took on the disappointment, along with the pride. "No regrets," he said. "The guys really did everything they could.
"We really took these games as a challenge, and I thought we responded really well. We were in a similar situation with 15-20 games to go, we were battling for the playoffs; basically every game since then was a battle for us. It wasn't really something new to us."
But last night's effort was not enough.
"It's hard to explain, it's a mixed feeling," Chara said. "You know that you got this far through all these odds," - Chara stopped talking to sigh again - "and nobody really believed in us. But we really believed in ourselves in this locker room."
Barbara Matson can be reached at email@example.com.