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Bruins pack up their troubles

After the Bruins finished a distant last in the Northeast Division, coach Mike Sullivan isn’t the only member of the organization whose future with the team is up in the air.
After the Bruins finished a distant last in the Northeast Division, coach Mike Sullivan isn’t the only member of the organization whose future with the team is up in the air. (Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)

When the Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 7 of the opening round against Montreal in 2004, the players in the dressing room on breakup day were in a state of shock. The ending was so unexpected because Boston had a 3-1 lead in games, and coupled with the knowledge that the lockout was coming, the despair was palpable.

Yesterday, as the Bruins cleaned out their lockers at the TD Banknorth Garden and headed into another offseason, the atmosphere was different.

It wasn't one of depression but of resignation. They'd known for some time the day was coming and they also knew it was the last time some of them would be sharing the same room.

''It was a long year," said defenseman Nick Boynton, who had season-ending shoulder surgery April 11. ''Hopefully we'll use it as a learning experience. I can't see ever having a year this frustrating again. The only way to go is up, so it's something to look forward to.

''We never really got it going at all this year. We played well for stretches but couldn't win games. Change obviously has to be made because it didn't go that well."

Goaltender Andrew Raycroft said he plans to put this disastrous year behind him and expects to be in a different uniform when 2006-07 rolls around.

''Never say never, but you look at the situation and you do the math," said Raycroft. ''There are two guys on three-year deals and me on a zero-year deal. Things will definitely play out, there are just so many variables. Overall, I guess I don't really expect to be back."

In 2003-04, Raycroft won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. This season was the opposite. Poor defense in front of him hurt his game early in the year and when the defense got better, Raycroft got hurt. He never was able to round into the form he was aiming for. His final win was March 2 against Atlanta. He appeared in just two of the final 21 contests.

''I didn't know if I was going to play," he said. ''We didn't really discuss the plans on who was going to play. It's obviously disappointing to play as little as I did over the second half. But that happens sometimes.

''I'm just going to keep my head up and look forward to playing next year. The last two months have been difficult, but today is nice, we can kind of tie up all the loose ends and move on. It's been a difficult year for everyone. It's just kind of a relief to have it over."

Raycroft said it was important to keep everything in perspective and he believes he can bounce back.

''I've learned a lot about myself and about people in general over the last nine months," he said. ''I'll definitely take the experience and be better for it. I'm not going to sit here and feel bad for myself. When it comes right down to it, I'm still living my dream. I'm in the NHL . . . it's a game when it comes right down to it. There are a lot worse things than having a bad hockey season. That in itself is positive. Everything else in my life is pretty good."

When asked what impact the Joe Thornton trade had on the team, Raycroft said it was nothing against those who came in the deal -- left wing Marco Sturm, center Wayne Primeau, and defenseman Brad Stuart -- but it was substantial given how Thornton fared with the Sharks.

''The guys who came in are really good players, and you don't want to slight them, but he's the leading scorer in the league," said Raycroft. ''How many one-goal games did we lose? Those one-goal games would probably have a bit of a different outcome with Jumbo, but in saying that, the guys who came in did a great job."

Hockey isn't over for everyone. Several players are headed to the World Championships in Riga, Latvia -- defenseman Hal Gill, Marty Reasoner, Stuart, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, and Milan Jurcina (who will go to Slovakia's camp to earn a spot). Sturm will be playing for Germany in the B pool tournament in France. Defenseman Mark Stuart and center Yan Stastny will head to Providence to compete in the playoffs.

Gill, who will become an unrestricted free agent in July, said he doesn't know if he's played his final shift with his hometown team.

''I don't know much of anything right now, I'm in a holding pattern," said Gill. ''I don't know what the story is going to be with the whole organization. Once they figure that out, maybe they'll talk to me or maybe they won't and we'll go from there.

''I'm not emotional about it, but it's definitely something where I realize this could be it. I'm always here in the summer so it's not like I'm leaving Boston, it's more like I'm turning the page if that is the case."

Coach Mike Sullivan has one year remaining on his contract but hasn't yet gotten an indication of where his future lies. He said no meetings with management and/or ownership are scheduled. He said he planned to spend yesterday and today meeting with players.

''It's tough," said Sullivan, when asked about the finality of the season. ''It's obviously disappointing. There are a lot of guys who had tremendous years through difficult circumstances. That bodes well for the future of the Bruins. There are a lot of young players who are only going to get better."

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