Since 1998, the Detroit Red Wings have proudly claimed to be the last team to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. In 2012, the Boston Bruins will steal those bragging rights from the Red Wings.
The Big Why: The core of the Boston team that claimed the 2011 Stanley Cup in such stunning fashion remains the same.
Goalie Tim Thomas, the backbone of the championship, is still the main man in the crease. Zdeno Chara, the captain and the anchor on the blue line, may have actually had a better season then the one he put together during the 2010-11 regular season. Plus, Boston's fleet of clutch scorers and physical tone-setters is back for more of the grinding, low-scoring hockey that is tailor-made for their skill set.
Despite an undeniable Stanley Cup hangover to start the season and some maddening inconsistency after the All-Star break, the Bruins still managed to win the Northeast Division, pass the 100-point mark and come amazingly close to winning 50 games. Plus, no team managed a larger differential between goals scored and goals allowed than these Bruins.
That differential, surprisingly, was built on offense, not defense, this time. Only one team in the League, the Pittsburgh Penguins, scored more goals than these Bruins. This is a team that comes at you with four lines that can score. The Bruins didn't have a player reach the 70-point plateau, but boasted seven players with more than 40 points.
And just like last season, GM Peter Chiarelli made some key transactions late in the season, adding the depth any championship team must have. Brian Rolston and Greg Zanon, obtained at the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline, have fit in seamlessly.
The Big Uh-Oh: Boston opened the season by winning just three of its first 10 games. It is the same team that then lost just once -- in a shootout -- in its next 15 games to turn around its season. Yet, there was another stretch where Boston won just eight of 22 games between Feb. 2 and March 15.
The other concern for these Bruins is that Thomas, 37, has played a lot of hockey in the past 21 months. Last season, he played in 57 regular-season games before logging 25 high-pressure playoff games. This year, because of a late-season injury to backup Tuukka Rask, Thomas played in 58 games, about eight to 10 more than management had hoped.
The Final Argument: Chalk up Boston's inconsistent season to the post-Cup malaise that affects even the most disciplined of teams. Once the mountain has been scaled, lesser challenges serve as little motivation. The mere fact that the Bruins twice found themselves on the brink of losing the plot this regular season, only to run off impressive winning streaks, attests to the fact that this team has the mental fortitude to repeat as champions in 2012.