Unlike the Bruins' last Cup-winning club, in 1972, the 2011 edition of the Bruins was able to retain nearly its entire roster heading into the defense of its crown, so familiarity and chemistry shouldn't be a problem.
"We all agree that we have a great opportunity again this year. Everyone's very excited," forward Brad Marchand
said. "We've only lost a couple guys, but (Benoit) Pouliot and (Joe) Corvo have come in and they're both great players. From what it looks like in camp, there's a lot of great young guys that are going to be battling for spots. So, yeah, we have a great shot again this year. We have to come in and make sure we don't take it for granted and think it's going to be easy because we won last year. But the way it looks, everyone is hungry."
The 1972 Cup title was Boston's second in three years, but the "Big, Bad Bruins" soon found themselves a little shorthanded. The World Hockey Association siphoned off a handful of core players, highlighted by premier puck-stopper Gerry Cheevers and center Derek Sanderson. The expansion draft also claimed role player Eddie Westfall. The Bruins made a few more trips to the Cup Final in the 1970s, but never carried the Cup off with them in the end.
With Pouliot, Corvo and a more-experienced Tyler Seguin
, the Bruins should be more than equipped to make up for the loss of Mark Recchi to retirement and Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder in free agency. Plus, through general manager Peter Chiarelli's wise maneuvering, the team has sufficient salary-cap space to supplement as the year goes on, unlike some recent Cup winners who had to let players leave to become cap compliant.
That no team has repeated as Cup champs since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings is proof the "Stanley Cup hangover" is real. Coach Claude Julien already is prepared for the pitfalls his team will need to avoid as it starts from scratch in the NHL standings.
"To me, I know that every year it's a challenge," he said. "There's always teams that are out of the playoffs that keep improving. So if they get better, they're going to try and knock somebody else out. And my season here in Boston is going to start the same way it started every year. We need to make the playoffs before we even start to think of a Stanley Cup again. That 82-game schedule is probably going to be our biggest challenge this year. … If you make the playoffs, (that's) when you start understanding what you went through the year before. I think our guys have that experience of knowing how to handle the playoffs better now than ever. But you got to get there and that's going to be a tough task in itself. Every team's going to be gunning for you, and if we're not ready for that, we're going to get ourselves in trouble. We have to be prepared for that mentally."
Despite a power play that ranked just 20th in the NHL, the Bruins were the fifth-highest scoring team in the League last season. That's a tribute to their 5-on-5 play and their balanced scoring, which last season was led by a breakout 30-goal season from winger Milan Lucic
Lucic, David Krejci
(who tied Lucic for the team points lead with 62) and Nathan Horton
(26 goals) all are back to provide the Bruins with one of the most lethal first lines around. There should be more productive days ahead for that trio, especially if Krejci -- a premier playmaker -- can improve on his 12 power-play points.
Boston's top three forwards aren't the only ones that could improve on their performance of a season ago. Patrice Bergeron
has shown glimpses of more offensive upside and might be able to better his 57-point season depending on his role on special teams and at full strength, and who his linemates are. You can expect him to start centering Marchand, whose 21 goals helped make the Bruins' second line a threat on a regular basis. But the Bruins will have to find a replacement for Recchi, with Seguin, Rich Peverley
and Pouliot among the prime candidates to grab that spot.
Peverley and Chris Kelly
were key February acquisitions for the Bruins; both can play center or wing and skate on any line. How much Seguin has improved since his rookie season will go a long way toward determining the Bruins' lineup, as Boston has to see if the second pick of the 2010 Entry Draft is a top-six player, and if he is, if it's at center or on the wing. If Seguin can consistently resemble the player who scored 3 goals in the first two games of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, the Bruins' top six will be impossible to contain.
The fourth line of Daniel Paille
, Gregory Campbell
and Shawn Thornton
proved in Game 7 of the Cup Final what regular observers of the team knew all season -- they're the best in the business at what they do. When the Bruins need a game-changing, physical shift, they turn to that trio to create momentum and it always responds.Zdeno Chara
didn't earn his second Norris Trophy in three years (Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom won), but he certainly put together a season any defenseman would be envious of in 2010-11. He had 14 goals, 30 assists and a plus-33 rating despite playing against the opposition's line every game and logging 25:26 of ice time a night. Thanks to an arduous year-round workout regimen, Chara hasn't shown signs of slowing down. The Bruins' captain again will be the cornerstone of a balanced defense corps.
In the postseason, Dennis Seidenberg
went from a solid No. 2 blueliner to challenging Chara for the title of Boston's best all-round defender. Chara and Seidenberg formed a dominant two-way pair in the playoffs but should be split up for balance's sake during the regular season, just as they were in the 2010-11 regular season. That opens the door for someone else to get the coveted role as Chara's partner.
Among the Bruins' current defense group, Johnny Boychuk
has the most experience playing with the captain. If he gets that shot, it'll be a chance for Boychuk to get his progression back on track after a disappointing 3-goal, 16-point 2010-11.Andrew Ference
and Adam McQuaid
are Boston's other returnees, and both could play anywhere in the lineup -- although they also have been known to combine as a solid third pair. Ference emerged last season not only as a reliable blueliner, but a spiritual leader who never is afraid to defend a teammate on the ice or speak up to motivate his teammates in the locker room. McQuaid's toughness seemingly knows no bounds, as he dropped the gloves with some of the toughest opponents Boston faced. He also showed a knack for keeping the puck out of the net with a plus-30 rating in limited ice time.
Boston's lone defense newcomer is Corvo, who the team hopes will provide them with a little more offensive pop from the back end, particularly on the power play.
After a solid 38-game rookie season, Steven Kampfer figures to push for a job, as does second-year man Matt Bartkowski
He set the single-season League save-percentage record (.938), led the League with a goals-against average of 2.00 and then won the "Triple Crown" -- the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy and Vezina Trophy. So what does Tim Thomas
"I have no choice but to try to do it again," said Thomas.
Unlike last summer, Thomas was able to work out full-tilt rather than rehabilitate his surgically repaired hip. That regimen, combined with what should be an even lesser work load, should set Thomas up to again challenge for a Vezina and the statistical lead in every major category.Tuukka Rask
's numbers (2.67 GAA, .918 save percentage) only paled in comparison to Thomas' marks and Rask's rookie-season performance (1.97 GAA, .937 save percentage). Rask struggled to get on track after a sluggish start to his second full NHL season but should be able to push Thomas for playing time over the course of the season.
For the first time in a couple years, the Bruins have a legitimate prospect as their third goalie, with Anton Khudobin
re-signed and ready to push Rask during training camp and probably serve as the No. 1 with the Providence (AHL) farm club.
Author: Matt Kalman | NHL.com Correspondent