BOSTON - Zdeno Chara slung the big black equipment bag over his back and walked down the hall outside the Bruins locker room and into an off-season of healing.
The healing will be physical and mental for a team that fell short of its post-season expectations after having the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Two of Boston's best scorers, 21-year-old Phil Kessel and 23-year-old David Krejci, face surgeries that could force them to miss the early part of next season. Defenceman Andrew Ference will have an operation after playing with a torn groin and a bruised pelvis.
Then there are the usual injuries that should get better over time.
Chara had problems with his "shoulder, knee, there was one more," general manager Peter Chiarelli said Monday, trying to remember all the ailments. "Shoulder, knee, groin, probably in that order of severity."
The Bruins captain and defenceman called them "tweaks that need to be taken care of."
Chiarelli expects to be dealing with the tweaks in his mind for some time. The disappointment of losing Game 7 of the conference semifinals was still very fresh after he met for 15-20 minutes Monday with each of his players before they scattered for the off-season.
"There's a gnawing sensation at the back of my head," he said. "It's about this last playoff series. It's about this season. And it's about this unfinished business.
"Throughout the course of the year, the level of expectation has risen and risen and risen and that's a good thing. ... We're heading in the right direction."
Now Chiarelli faces some tough contractual decisions to maintain that progress.
Kessel, who led the Bruins with 36 goals, and Krejci, third on the team with 73 points, both can become restricted free agents.
It's "questionable" whether both will be ready for the start of next season, Chiarelli said, but that won't affect the negotiations.
Kessel will have surgery Thursday for rotator cuff and labrum problems in his shoulder. Krejci played with a right hip injury all season and will have an "impingement" in the area tended to in an operation that he said will take 4-6 months to recover from. Neither of the injuries was announced previously.
Krejci said he received an injection in the area before games.
"When it was like 50 games (into the season), sometimes it was, 'This hurts so much,' but a month ago it was hurting more and you play. ... You get hurt, there's nothing you can do. I either get the surgery (then) and I'll be out for the season, or I play like it's my last game and I go through it and I'll get it after the season, so I didn't really have a choice."
Forward Patrice Bergeron is scheduled to make US$5 million next season. The NHL salary cap is expected to be between $53 million and $55 million per club.
The Bruins could save money by trading Bergeron or not bringing back unrestricted 41-year-old free agent Mark Recchi, who served as an unselfish example to young Bruins after he was obtained from Tampa Bay on March 4.
The night before last Thursday night's final game against Carolina, Recchi had surgery to remove a kidney stone that he wouldn't wish "on my worst enemy, but we all play through stuff. It's really no big deal."
He'd like to return to the Bruins but if they don't re-sign him, he might retire, he said.
Forward Chuck Kobasew played the entire series after breaking two ribs in the opener. And defenceman Matt Hunwick said that if the Bruins advanced, he was pointing toward playing again next weekend - after having had his spleen removed.
"Every team has injuries," Chiarelli said, "but we seem to have a few more than maybe other teams and I have to hand it to the players for playing through the injuries."
Those injuries and the nine-day layoff between the Bruins first-round sweep of Montreal and the second round against Carolina hurt them.
"The team that played the best obviously won that series," coach Claude Julien said, "but not necessarily the best team. This is something we can grow from."
If the Bruins can sign Kessel and Krejci and add a strong physical centre to that undersized group they should remain solid contenders after barely making the playoffs in 2007-08.
"When you have a good team, you don't really want to change it too much," Krejci said. "The GM's going to have lots of work to do. We have lots of young guys. Hopefully, we'll keep almost the same team."