On the morning after the devastation - to the psyche of a team and a city - the Vancouver Canucks players kept their distance from the Rogers Arena. The break-up gathering and the exit meetings will follow in due course, but not on Thursday, where everyone involved could nurse their hangovers and disappointments and digest the 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in the seventh and deciding of the Stanley Cup final.
It was a disappointing, crushing defeat for the Canucks on so many levels. They'd won the President's Trophy as regular season champions. They dominated the league, offensively and defensively, from October to April. Their stars - goaltender Roberto Luongo, centre Ryan Kesler, winger Daniel Sedin - were all nominated for major NHL awards. They'd navigated their way through the Western Conference playoff minefield for three rounds and led the final series 3-2, with two chances to close out the series, including the one on home ice.
And they couldn't get it done, against a Boston Bruins' team that outscored them 23-8 and won the most-lopsided close series in recent NHL history.
So what next for general manager Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault? The business of hockey does not slow down much to accommodate teams that make a long playoff run. The NHL entry draft is a little over a week away. Free agency begins on July 1. The Canucks have decisions to make - about the future of their goaltenders and how to deal with pending unrestricted free agents Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff.
But those are individual micro-issues. If they are smart, their post-mortem should focus squarely on the macro issue - of how a team that was celebrating their first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years on their home ice Wednesday now happened to get there. There is an object lesson to be learned in the path the Bruins' followed, beginning 13 months ago, when they found themselves in an even more desolate position.
Last spring, Boston became just the third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose, joining the 1942 Detroit Red Wings and the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins in the record books.
It was not pretty. There was talk of giving coach Claude Julien the chop. Talk of making wholesale changes. Theories that the net effect of such a historic collapse would take years to purge from the collective psyche of the team. Fear that the Bruins would never recover, not in the short term, anyway.
And yet, here they are, Stanley Cup champions, able to put the hurt behind them over the course of the summer and re-dedicate themselves to the task of winning a championship. The Bruins switched goalies - from Tuukka Rask to Tim Thomas. They traded for Nathan Horton, to add some needed scoring. They strengthened the bottom end of their roster, with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, so that when injuries occurred, they were in a position to muddle through. But mostly, they stuck with the team they had, led by the brilliantly efficient Zdeno Chara.
From the depths of the Bruins' despair to the heights of a Stanley Cup championship, all in a single year, it was an extraordinary accomplishment - and the lesson for Vancouver is, it can be done.
It just doesn't feel that way, not today, not when the feelings of loss are so raw that emotionally, people want a response. They want a scapegoat and they want it now. Luongo is the people's choice as the villain of the piece. His performance in the three games in Boston were ugly - and he was so-so in the deciding game. His struggles in the Chicago series were also hard to ignore.
Still, he did win 15 games for them this spring, did record four playoff shutouts and he did provide some quality goaltending along the way. Too bad NHL culture doesn't easily change and permit coaches to make goalie switches in the playoffs the way they do in the regular season - just so coach Alain Vigneault could give his starter a day off to gather himself.
Under that scenario, the Canucks could have gone right to Cory Schneider for the start of Game 6 and had a fresh confident Luongo in reserve for Game 7. But it doesn't work that way, especially not in a series-deciding game, and so, they were left with this.
But Luongo is signed for another 11 years on a contract that is hard to trade, so pining for a change there isn't going to do any good. Gillis may need to trade Schneider - who would be coveted by many organizations, and often the way these deals work is, you can package a bad contract with a highly prized commodity and thus get rid of $4.2 million worth of Keith Ballard's unwieldy deal. And if you save the money there, then Bieksa and Ehrhoff can likely both be fit under the cap. Add a depth player here, a veteran presence there - plus a dash of the motivation that Boston found after brooding away last summer - and the Canucks might be heard from again as early as next year. Nobody survives very long in the hockey business by making rash or irrational decisions. The Bruins didn't last year and were rewarded for their faith in their core players with a Stanley Cup championship. It is a lesson the Canucks would be well-advised to absorb.