BOSTON - When the Bruins skated off the TD Garden ice on Wednesday night and down the tunnel, there was no more sense of hope.
All hope had been left on the ice, along with the scattered gold rally towels that had made their way to the ice.
The men in the Spoked-B had gone through their handshake line with the men in Bleu, Blacn et Rouge, saluted the crowd for their undying support and headed to the locker room to try and process what had just happened.
Game 7. A 3-1 loss to the rival Habs. It likely hurts just reading the words alone.
"You’re never satisfied in playoffs unless you win and you go all the way," said Brad Marchand, trying to adjust to the shock to the system that is losing a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"But we didn’t play our best hockey at the right time and that’s what you need to do in playoffs. You need to play your best hockey of the season in playoff time and we didn’t do that."
It had been 224 days since Opening Night, just under a year since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. There was unfinished business, and the Bruins didn't get it done.
"No, no. You can’t [process it]. It’s been five minutes since the game was over," said Patrice Bergeron, who stood in front of his stall, his hands shaking as he tried to formulate words for all of the gathered reporters. "You can’t, and it’s going to take a while to sink in."
BOSTON - It has been 223 days and 93 games since the 2013-14 season began for the Bruins. Everything now rests on Game No. 94.
It's do-or-die, as the Black & Gold host the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 amidst the TD Garden faithful.
On Wednesday morning, the Garden was quiet and calm, as the Bruins methodically took to the ice for their all-business pregame skate. It was a "do what you need to do" to be ready for tonight kind of atmosphere.
The locker room was fairly light, as media filtered through. Why feel buried under the weight of the Game 7 pressure, when you can embrace the challenge ahead?
They know the game plan. They know what works. They know what it will take to win.
They have confidence that the previous 223 days of this season, and the experience far beyond that, has prepared them. Now, it's about trusting the group that has gotten them this far.
BOSTON, MA - When the buzzer sounds at the end of Game 7 on Wednesday night, the Bruins want to be able to be able to head through the locker room doors, look in the closest mirror, and know that they gave it everything they had.
"You've got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day," said Shawn Thornton, who will be suiting up in the seventh Game 7 of his career. "So everyone should be laying it all on the line. It's true on both sides."
The Bruins had gathered at TD Garden on Tuesday, after flying back late Monday night from Montreal.
"I think desperation is going out there and giving the best shot you can," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "The last thing you want is regrets."
"And if you hold back, and you don't do the things that you can do, and you don't leave it all out on the ice, then you have regrets."
"So that's what desperation's about, leaving it all out there on the ice and then you can walk away knowing that you gave it your best shot."
Wednesday night will mark the ninth Game 7 under Julien. Four of their previous five have ended in triumph, none more gratifying than the Cup-winning Game 7 win in Vancouver in 2011, and none more electrifying than the come-from-behind miraculous Game 7 win over Toronto in 2013.
MONTREAL - In the visiting team locker room at the Bell Centre, surrounded by reporters and cameras, Tuukka Rask had a message for the Boston faithful.
"Just be ready to cheer us on, and we'll get it done," he said.
They were parting words that satisfied the crowd around him, and they dispersed to the next Bruin nearby who echoed the same sentiment.
The Black & Gold had just dropped a 4-0 loss to Montreal in Game 6, an end result that forced a Game 7 in Boston on Wednesday night.
From Bruin to Bruins throughout the room, they all methodically and calmly answers the questions posed.
One might have expected a frustrated group, after giving up a 1-0 lead just 2:11 into the game when a puck was mishandled on a breakout and ended up in behind Rask.
Or after having nearly two straight minutes of offensive zone time in the second period when it was still only a one-goal game.
Or after a bouncing, rolling puck somehow ended up going off Loui Eriksson's glove, up over Dougie Hamilton, and onto Max Pacioretty's stick for a partial breakaway goal that came right after that hard work to sustain time in the zone.
MONTREAL - On Monday morning at the Bell Centre, David Krejci was the first Bruin down the tunnel and onto the ice for pregame skate.
He and his teammates were just about eight hours away from puck drop on Game 6 against Montreal, with the advantage of a 3-2 series lead.
Krejci gathered a pile of pucks in the "Stanley Cup Playoffs" logo just inside the blueline, and began firing away.
Johnny Boychuk and the rest of the Bruins soon began filtering out as well. Boychuk gladly helped in sending Krejci pass after pass in the slot for him to fire at the open net.
It wasn't really anything too out of the ordinary. Players hit the ice early every day.
But Krejci is still searching for the back of the net this postseason - during game action, and not just morning skates - and he's not usually the first one on the ice.
The centerman has three assists through 10 games so far in the playoffs, and one assist in this series, on Milan Lucic's empty-netter that sealed a 5-3 comeback win in Game 2.
"Didn’t want to make any point. Just wanted to go out there and get better, see the ice, feel the puck, feel more confident," said Krejci, sitting in his stall in the visiting team locker room at the Bell Centre on Monday following the team's skate.
MONTREAL - The Bruins will be playing their final game at the Bell Centre this postseason, when the puck drops on Game 6 Monday night.
It's up to them whether they'll have happy travels back to Boston, or have to prepare for a Game 7.
With two straight wins - a 1-0 overtime win at the Bell Centre in Game 4 and a 4-2 commanding victory at TD Garden in Game 5 - the Bruins have set themselves up with a 3-2 series lead.
The majority of those in the Spoked-B have been in this situation before. Back in 2011, they led Montreal three games to two, with the opportunity to close out the series at the Bell Centre. Their effort fell short, and they needed overtime in Game 7 to continue on.
Does Head Coach Claude Julien remember that Game 6, three years ago?
"I don't. Short-term memory," he responded, bringing out laughs from reporters gathered at the Bell Centre for the Bruins' pregame skate on Monday morning.
What the Black & Gold learned that year, is nothing new from what they've learned throughout all of their playoff series.
BOSTON, MA - It's close-out time for the Bruins.
With a 3-2 lead in the series, they head back to Montreal for Game 6 looking to take advantage of the opportunity they earned themselves with a 4-2 win Saturday night at TD Garden.
"It’s going to be a tough one," said Head Coach Claude Julien, speaking with reporters in Boston on Sunday. "I think, again, you have to rely on our experience and knowing that we haven’t won this series yet."
"We have to bring our best game next game, because they will. They will bring their best game and if we don’t bring ours, then you’re looking at a Game 7. So we can’t take those chances, we have to come out and play the best hockey we can."
"Our biggest focus right now is to close out the series as fast as we can," said Reilly Smith.
"You don't want to give a team like Montreal time to linger around, because anything can happen in games and their goalie's been pretty hot so if you give him a chance to shut you out, he'll definitely do that."
"So we're going to the Bell Centre definitely trying to get [the win], that's our main focus."
BOSTON, MA - Entering Game 5 on Saturday night at TD Garden, the Bruins' total lead-time in the series had been a grand total of 11 minutes and 39 seconds.
For a team that can protect a lead and suffocate the opponent once they get ahead, catch-up hockey's not the ideal way to play.
Carl Soderberg helped change that, putting the Spoked-B on the board 13:20 into the first en route to their 4-2 win and the 3-2 series lead.
After that, as the winning goaltender said from the Bruins' locker room postgame, they "never looked back."
"Did everything we wanted to. Good start. Kept pushing, kept pushing," said Tuukka Rask, who backstopped the Black & Gold with 29 saves.
"It’s always better to play with a lead than kind of chasing the goals. It’s always easier that way," said Captain Zdeno Chara.
"We are pretty good team to play with a lead and they are, too," said Soderberg, as he spoke to reporters in the team's 'Player of the Game' Jacket, passed on from Matt Fraser. "It’s always important, especially in the second and third."
The Bruins didn't stop there. They had built a 1-0 first period lead back in Game 2 at TD Garden, and had to claw their way back from a 3-1 deficit before winning 5-3 off Reilly Smith's game-winner late in the third period.
BOSTON, MA - Matt Fraser's plan at the outset was to take a few deep breaths, if his emotions ever got the the best of him during his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut.
"I'm not too sure, I guess I'll figure that out at game time," he had smiled.
"But this isn’t the first time someone’s come up, and [Torey] Krug did it last year, [Matt] Bartkowski did it last year and look at them now. They’re impact players in this League and you try not to think of anything like that, but you know, you've got to play your game."
That was before he became the overtime hero in the Bruins' 1-0 win in Montreal on Thursday night that evened the series at two games apiece, and gave him his first NHL playoff goal in his postseason debut.
Once that happened, he let his emotions loose.
"[Johnny] Boychuk was holding me up and he was yelling at me not to fall, because everyone was going to fall next," Fraser laughed, describing the postgame celebration the next day to reporters at TD Garden. "It was - I mean, it was such a blur of the moment kind of thing that it was something I'll never forget."
BOSTON, MA - It's time to hit reset on this series, as it has become a best of three, with the Bruins holding home-ice advantage.
Each team has stolen a game in the opponent's arena, but the Black & Gold are hoping to get a boost from their home crowd at TD Garden on Saturday night for Game 5.
"It's back to even, we have home-ice advantage again which is huge, so we just have to take advantage of that," said Reilly Smith, following the team's optional morning skate.
The mentality in the Bruins' room has not surprisingly been more positive since Thursday's 1-0 overtime win that evened the series at 2-2.
"I think win or lose, we feel confident in this room," said Daniel Paille. "Obviously we're feeling good about ourselves…so I don't think anyone is struggling to focus."
"We try to keep pretty easy-going," said Smith. "Even when we were in Montreal, down 2-1. So it's good to come back and have home-ice advantage again, that's huge, we've just got to take care of business tonight, and work from that."
Jumping out to a lead at home would help that cause. With the last game scoreless until Matt Fraser's overtime-winner at 1:19 into extra time, the Bruins still have only led in the series for about 11 and a half minutes. A strong start, with a strong forecheck and sustained pressure, would get the Bruins going at the right pace early on.