BOSTON -- It wasn't supposed to end like this.
Not this soon.
Not this way.
Not for a group that had been constructed to win a Stanley Cup, not merely a couple of early series against low-seeded opponents.
But the Penguins' season came to an abrupt and stunning end with a 1-0 loss against Boston in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final Friday night, leaving them a full eight victories shy of the championship they were so intent on winning.
"To come up this short definitely doesn't sit well with anyone," captain Sidney Crosby said.
Just what the fallout from the elimination will be -- and when it will begin -- wasn't immediately clear.
There is sure to be significant roster turnover, if only because of salary-cap limitations, and coach Dan Bylsma and his staff figure to receive a rigorous review from general manager Ray Shero and the rest of upper management.
Fittingly, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who was almost unbeatable for four games, gloved a Jarome Iginla shot as time expired in the series.
He shut out the Penguins in Games 1 and 4, and turned aside 134 of 136 shots during the series. Sensational as Rask was, he was aided greatly by teammates who consistently got their sticks on Penguins passes and shots and allowed few second-chance opportunities.
"They have good structure," Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz said. "They're willing to battle and they have guys there and they bring guys back to play well defensively."
The Penguins never had a lead in four games and scored just two goals.
Big-time talents such as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang failed to record a point.
The Penguins had averaged more than four goals per game while knocking off the New York Islanders and Ottawa in the first two rounds.
Boston got the only goal it needed when defenseman Adam McQuaid's slap shot from above the right circle glanced off Iginla and beat Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun high on the glove side at 5:01 of the third period.
McQuaid's goal earned the Bruins a spot in the Stanley Cup final against the winner of the Western Conference final, in which Chicago holds a 3-1 lead over Los Angeles.
This is just the third time in franchise history the Penguins have been swept in a best-of-seven series, and the first since Boston did it to them in 1979.
Another striking stat: The Penguins failed to score a power-play goal in a series for only the second time; the other was in a best-of-three against Buffalo in 1979.
They also prevented Boston from getting a man-advantage goal, something the Penguins had managed only once previously.
That was in 1970 against Chicago, which suggests that flawless penalty-killing might not be as valuable as it seems.
The Penguins have been swept both times that happened.
Although the Bruins wrapped up the series in Game 4 after taking a chokehold on it in Game 3, both of which were played at TD Garden, the Penguins are convinced, with good reason, that their chances of advancing were undercut by losses at Consol Energy Center in the first two games.
They had some tough luck in the opener, but self-destructed during a 6-1 loss in Game that stuck them in a hole from which they never came close to escaping.
"We lost the series at home," Malkin said.
"We started [down] 2-0. Big mistakes.
"The last two games, the team played very well. I'm glad how the team played the last two games, but it's tough here, and their goalie played very well."
And so the Bruins are headed to the final for the second time in the past three years and look entirely capable of earning a Cup to go with the one they claimed in 2011.
"It's all about hitting your stride at the right time," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "And, obviously, they did it."
Just as obviously, the Penguins never really did in this series, at least offensively.
And so, what could have been one of the most exhilarating playoff runs in franchise history instead will be remembered as an excruciating failure.
"It's really disappointing," Vokoun said. "We had a great team, and we just didn't get it done."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published June 8, 2013 2:45 AM