BOSTON – Four straight goals. Four straight losses.

The symmetry was too much to bear for the Boston Bruins.

“I’m in shock right now, actually,” Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk said after watching the Philadelphia Flyers rally from a three-goal deficit in Game 7 to win 4-3 and complete their comeback from a three-game hole in the Eastern Conference semifinals. “Disappointed is an understatement I guess. We were up 3-nothing and it was just like the series: 4-3.”

It was an odd ending to an odd season, one in which Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Tim Thomas earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team but lost his form and his NHL starting job before the Vancouver Games even began. The team didn’t respond to the blindside hit to the head by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke that knocked Marc Savard out with a concussion – at least not in a way that satisfied Boston fans.

Instead the Bruins fought until the final weekend of the season for one of the last berths in the Eastern Conference, winning on the final weekend to qualify as a sixth seed. Boston upended the Buffalo Sabres in the first round and, when the top two seeds also lost, had home-ice advantage against Philadelphia.

The Bruins jumped to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven conference semifinals, but the Flyers won Game 4 in overtime and then added victories in Games 5 and 6 to force the decisive game in Boston. The Bruins opened a 3-0 lead before the Flyers scored four straight to advance to the conference finals against eighth-seeded Montreal.

“I wouldn’t say we choked,” Boychuk said. “We had a chance to close it out in overtime. … It could have gone either way in the last two games. If you want to say we choked, I’m proud of the way we battled and I’m just in shock that were not playing anymore.”

It’s destined to be an odd offseason as well: Despite their strong finish, the Bruins own the No. 2 pick in the draft, thanks to a trade that sent disgruntled scorer Phil Kessel to Toronto last summer. The pick is likely to be either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, both Ontario Hockey League stars.

“Obviously there is going to be a bitter taste in your mouth for all this summer,” forward Milan Lucic said. “But at some point you have to try and get over it. Who knows how long it is going to take?

“Hopefully we can take some things out of this and we can learn a real valuable lesson that we can’t take anything for granted at all. I think everyone in this room is going to have that bitter taste in their mouth, and hopefully everyone uses that to come out hungry and work even harder to push more to start off and have a good start to next season.”

But it wasn’t the start that was the problem.

The Bruins were 21-12-7 after beating the Flyers in the New Year’s Day Winter Classic at Fenway Park, then won just two of their next 16 games. Tuukka Rask replaced Thomas and helped the Bruins reach the playoffs, then outplayed Olympic MVP Ryan Miller in the first round.

But after taking a 3-0 lead in the second-round series, the Bruins couldn’t finish.

“Killer instinct was missing,” Bruins forward Mark Recchi said. “What are you going to do? It’s over now. And another long summer to think about it.”

It’s the fourth straight Game 7 loss for the Bruins, the third year in a row they’ve lost a deciding game, and the second consecutive season in which they’ve lost the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals at home.


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