The Boston Bruins will win the Stanley Cup because they have done it so recently.
This team is less than 24 months removed from hockey's ultimate accomplishment and still possesses a huge part of the core that delivered Boston its first hockey championship in nearly 40 years. In fact, Boston regularly uses 16 of the 20 skaters who dressed in the 2011 run.
In goal, Tuukka Rask is the starter, replacing Tim Thomas. That is not as big a downgrade as it may sound, however. Rask has a pretty good season in his pocket heading into the playoffs. His name will be thrown into the Vezina Trophy conversation. He played 34 games this season, yet managed five shutouts, which matched his career high and the combined total from his previous two seasons.
Plus, this is a team built for the way hockey is played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins are deep down the middle with a one-two punch at center featuring Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. On the blue line, the club's top-four -- Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk -- are as talented as any quartet in the tournament.
How good can that group be? During the run to the 2011 Cup, those four defenders combined to go plus-50. And it's not all just defense; that foursome had 39 points in 25 postseason games.
Coach Claude Julien can get favorable matchups against teams with two scoring lines, which is a luxury many coaches crave as the competition becomes better and more spirited.
And let's not forget Julien. He proved two years ago he is not afraid to make tough decisions -- reuniting Chara and Seidenberg early in the playoffs likely saved Boston's postseason. Julien also has the temperament -- and, more importantly, the trust of his team -- to manage the emotions in series that can boil over in the matter of 48 hours. His calm demeanor in the Final two years ago when the Vancouver Canucks set the early tone with a pair of one-goal home wins probably went as far as anything in delivering the Bruins the Cup.
This Bruins team has been schooled in what it means to play in big games. Think again about the run to a title two years ago. It took a grueling seven-game series to vanquish the Montreal Canadiens, a perennial rival that usually gets the better of Boston, just to get out of the first round. Then it took another seven-game series, this time against the Tampa Bay Lightning, to win the Eastern Conference Finals. Finally, after falling behind 3-2 in the best-of-7 Final, Boston responded by outscoring Vancouver 9-2 in the final two games, including a 4-0 shutout on the road in Game 7.
Clearly, the enormity of any moment is not too big.
Simply put, this is a veteran team -- filled with game-breakers at all the key positions -- that knows how to navigate the perils of a four-series march to glory.
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