BOSTON -- Patrice Bergeron took plenty of time before leaving the ice Sunday night after the Bruins saw their season end in stunning fashion with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers in Game 7 at TD Garden.
He hugged all of his teammates, including emotional embraces with longtime teammates David Krejci and Brad Marchand. He then lifted his stick to salute the fans, blew them a kiss and walked down the tunnel toward the locker room.
Given the uncertainty surrounding his future, it's fair to wonder if that moment was his last as a Bruins player.
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"It's always an honor to play with these guys," Bergeron said of his embraces with Marchand and Krejci. "You compete and -- (with) these guys it's been over a decade. It's a special bond."
Bergeron said after the game that he will take some time and talk with his family before making a decision on what to do next. He just wrapped up his 19th season with the Bruins.
“Right now, it’s hard to process anything," Bergeron admitted. "It hurts right now.”
The veteran center also revealed that he played with a herniated disc. Bergeron missed the first four games of the series before making his debut in Game 5.
There are a lot of reasons why this shocking first-round exit hurts so much for the Bruins, and pretty close to the top of that list is not being able to make another deep playoff run with their captain.
“He’s one of the best humans I’ve ever met. One of the best leaders I’ve ever met," Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. "I would do anything for that guy because I know he would do the same for me and he’d do the same for a stranger on the street. When you have that feeling for a human being, you want to do whatever you can to make him happy. I know that he has brought so much happiness to our team and our lives and our families."
Bergeron signed a one-year contract with the Bruins last August, which makes him an unrestricted free agent this summer. After 20 seasons of wear and tear, plus a long list of team and personal awards/honors/records on his Hall of Fame resume, retirement is a possibility.
But even in this late stage of his career, he's still very much an elite player. Bergeron is the favorite to win the Selke Trophy as the league's top two-way forward for a record sixth time. He has scored 20-plus goals in 10 consecutive seasons. He's a legit No. 1 center two decades into his career.
"There's too many memories to list. But the friendship that we've built and the relationship that we have, it's been special," Marchand said. "Hopefully it's not (his final season), but that's up to him to make his decision and do what he decides to do.
"Regardless of what he decides to do, whether he continues to play again or not, our bond will last a lifetime. It's just something we've built throughout here."