It was the ending they dreaded: Returning to a dressing room knowing their season was over and a cross-country flight to mull the comeback that fell short.

The Devils' disappointment seemed overwhelming after losing the Stanley Cup finals to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. But for a few, the realization that the franchise was back among the league's elite was at least some consolation.

"This is the toughest thing I've ever been through in my life, to even sit here and talk about it," right winger David Clarkson said. "We should be proud. We're back to where we were thought of for years. We've got to continue to do this year in and year out, but this was a tough one to swallow."

For most of them, it was their first time in the finals.

"All year long we showed a lot of character," Ilya Kovalchuk said. "We played well on the road. We never gave up. We made it interesting, but it wasn't enough.

"Like I said, those losses have to make us stronger. There was a lot of positive stuff. We'll be better next year."