Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas gestures to reporters at TD Garden in Boston, Friday, April 27, 2012, as he describes how his vision was blocked on the Washington Capitals\' winning goal in overtime in Game 7, eliminating the Bruins from the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
BOSTON - The Bruins tried every tactic possible to avoid the dreaded "Stanley Cup Hangover."
They didn't work.
Different lineups, different travel schedules, extra rest, you name it. But Boston still slumped through certain times of the regular season, and though it won the Northeast Division and snagged the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, there the Bruins were on Friday, packing up at the TD Garden after a first-round loss to Washington some 10 months after hoisting the Stanley Cup.
"I think the best way to say it is it almost felt like one long season. It almost felt like a baseball season," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "Obviously, we've almost played 200 games here in the last two years. Obviously that's a good thing, you want to be playing as much as you can, as long as you can.
"But, this is an opportunity for us right now to get some rest."
Lucic and several other Bruins seemed to be most affected by the arduous schedule. While Washington's defensive gameplan played a large part in players like Lucic, and forwards David Krejci and Tyler Seguin hardly being a factor offensively, there was a lack of consistency with the Bruins throughout the regular season.
"I mentioned to (general manager) Peter (Chiarelli) the other day, that physically I think we're OK. There didn't seem to be any issues physically," coach Claude Julien said. "I think mentally, some players handled it better than others over the course of the season, and the short summer and everything else, and that's what happens with teams.
"I don't think it makes a player less valuable or less of a better player than others and everyone handles it differently."
Boston went 49-29-4 this season and was led by Seguin's 67 points.
"We had some guys that came back and were the same player they were the year before. We had some players that really struggled," Julien said. "Basically, we played two seasons in less than two years. It's not an easy task, and at the same time, there's so much going on, there's reasons for guys being better and a little less than others."
Many of Boston's key players remain under contract. Several, including Lucic, Seguin, forward Brad Marchand and goaltender Tim Thomas, will enter the last year of their deals in 2012-13. And goaltender Tuukka Rask, who has combined with Thomas to form one of the best duos in the league, will be a restricted free agent this summer.
As far as unrestricted free agents, centre Chris Kelly, coming off a career year, is the biggest name that could test the open market. Chiarelli has had negotiations with all of his unrestricted players over the course of the season, and will now resume those talks.
But as far as a major overhaul? Probably not going to happen.
"We're not going to do anything to make over this team," Chiarelli said. "You hear me talk about the parity in this league and our first-round loss in seven games this year can be another Stanley Cup final next year. It's that close. You see the new four teams in the West (Nashville, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and St. Louis) and you see some different teams in the East. So you just have to be prepared.
"But on the major change front, I'm not looking at doing anything. But I would like to add some pieces."
The Bruins entered the season intent on proving people wrong about the impossibility of a repeat. They failed in that task. But hope springs eternal. Next season, after all, they'll have a whole new source of motivation now that the season ended much earlier than expected.
"Every season, you have something to prove," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "Right now, we just sit back and relax. But at the same time, we shouldn't be ignoring the fact that we came up short, shorter than we were counting on.
"Next year should be an exciting year for us and proving again that we are a top team."