BOSTON -- In the salary-cap era of the NHL, you never know how long a team will be able to keep its core and supporting cast together.
Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in four years, but with a decidedly different band of role players complementing the core of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and others.
On the other side of this first Original Six matchup in the Final since 1979 are the Boston Bruins, who are back here for the second time in three years, having followed the Blackhawks' 2010 title with one of their own in 2011. The Bruins boast 17 players who skated in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs that also were members of that Cup winner.
Bruins coach Claude Julien isn't surprised to see his club back in the Final with so many familiar faces.
"I think so. I think that's why [general manager] Peter [Chiarelli] tried to keep the group together as much as he could," Julien said. "You're always going to lose a player or two here or there, but overall, we still believed that this team could get another opportunity to get there.
"All you had to do was look at our team two years ago, we're still a young team. A lot of those guys that played well, [David] Krejci, [Milan] Lucic; I mean, they're all young guys. [Nathan] Horton, just to name a few. You got [Tyler] Seguin, who was a rookie that year. [Patrice] Bergeron seems like he's been in this League forever, but he came in the League as an 18-year-old. [Brad] Marchand, you look at some of our players up front, they're all young. Same thing in the back end, Zdeno [Chara] plays like a young man. We felt pretty confident. Our goaltender [Tuukka Rask] is a young one. When you look at our team, we're not a team that's old, we're a team that's experienced."
That experience will be put to the test when the Final opens Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS) in Chicago. The Blackhawks won the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the best record in the regular season. To this point, they've played one more game than the Bruins in the playoffs because they needed five games to defeat the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final after the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East.
Because of the lockout shortened season, this Final has an old-school "World Series" sort of feel to it. There were no inter-conference games, so the Bruins and Blackhawks have not met since the 2011-12 regular season. The Bruins, however, aren't worried about the lack of familiarity causing them many problems.
"We've done a good job of playing our system and believing in our system," Lucic said Sunday after the Bruins practiced at TD Garden. "And I think when you go up against a team that you haven't played yet this year, a lot of emphasis goes into what you're going to do. So we need to stay on course and what's made us successful the rest of the playoffs here."
There's also plenty of video on the Blackhawks to get the Bruins up to speed in time for Game 1.
"Like everything else, even the teams that we played, we relied a lot on video," Julien said. "The only advantage you have sometimes is that you know from going head to head with them what's worked and what hasn't worked. When it comes to that, it's the same for both teams. I think we've done a lot of pre-scout and watched them play enough, have an idea of how they've played, just like I'm sure they do with us. You do your research, you talk to people, you do a lot of things. It's about preparing, and preparing your team more than anything else. Like I said today, there's not too many secrets left in this game."
Although they come up short to the Bruins' 15 different goal scorers in these playoffs, the Blackhawks' balanced attack has featured goals from 12 different players. Chicago tries to spread the wealth and shut you down, just like Boston.
"They're a very mobile defensive unit that jumps in on the offense and looks for those little seams," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "And offensively, they're really like Pittsburgh. Really explosive, they have really high-scoring forwards up there that can score, they can find plays, make plays, and we really have to be on our game to be successful in this series."
Lucic said: "They're consistent throughout their lineup. They've been consistent the whole year throughout their lineup. They play well as a 20-man unit. They have guys who can score, and they have guys who can defend, and they have a goalie who's played well all year long. We expect nothing but their best."
A four-game sweep of top-seeded Pittsburgh could have taken a toll physically and mentally on the Bruins. To a man, they say they're ready to turn their attention to the next series just two days after eliminating the Penguins. That's one of the many benefits of having a team that's been together so long and has won eight playoff rounds since 2010.
"Yeah, it feels pretty good that we're back here again a couple years later," Krejci said. "Most of the guys have been on this team, so it's fun. But we also know that the job's not done yet and the most important and hardest series is just in front of us."
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