BostonBruins.com - On Tuesday afternoon following the Bruins' high-tempo, high-intensity practice - the first in a four-day prep before facing the Penguins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night in Pittsburgh - the players filtered off the ice at Ristuccia Arena, into the locker room and began to speak with a hoard of reporters.
It felt like just another practice back out in Wilmington. While the sun was beating down with the playoff-weather temperature of around 80 degrees outside, the inside of the infamously cold arena half an hour outside the city, was just as freezing as ever.
Only, it was so different.
The intensity was higher, the mood jovial but focused. Never was there a time during the regular season where the Black & Gold had seven days to rest, recover, refocus.
Was it really 16 days ago that the season was on the ropes, in Game Seven, down by three goals with the phantoms of summer closing in?
On Tuesday, there were the Bruins, speaking in front of their stalls, excited, ready, chomping at the bit, to face the Eastern Conference's most highly-touted team in the Penguins.
"It’s great - that’s why we play is to play against the best," said Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron, ever so cooly.
"And this series is going to be the same thing, so it’s a good challenge and it’s a lot of fun. That’s what playoff hockey is all about, so we’re looking forward to it."
It's been well-documented just how strong Pittsburgh's offense is, with their 4.27 goals-per-game average that leads the playoffs (the highest since the 1985 Edmonton Oilers at 5.44 goals-per-game). Behind the NHL's playoff scoring leader in David Krejci (5-12=17) sits Evgeni Malkin (4-12=16), Kris Letang (3-13=16) and Sidney Crosby (7-8=15) in the No. 2-4 slots.
"I think, anytime in hockey you want to face the best, play against the best players, play the best teams and obviously that's what you have to go through in the playoffs, is to go against the best teams," said Bergeron. "And I think the Penguins are a team that's ahead of us right now to get to our goal - and it's a good challenge."
Going up against one of the best teams in the NHL means that for the first time this postseason, the B's may be the "underdogs."
"We're fine with it," said Bergeron, of the label. "We've been through that before in previous years. I think hockey's always, it doesn't matter until you get on the ice."
"They are a great team, we respect them but at the same time, we believe in our abilities and we know we have the confidence."
"It's going to be exciting, it's going to be a good challenge. Definitely looking forward to it and we'll be ready."
Tuukka Rask is also welcoming the pressure of having to step up his game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I’m one of those guys where you’ve got to relish the challenges. You can’t fear them, ‘Bring it on,'" said Coach Julien, of Rask and his team being up for the challenge.
"That’s what [Tuukka's] telling me right now, ‘Bring it on. I’m ready for it.’ That’s what our whole team’s demeanor is going to be, ‘Hey, we know it’s going to be a big challenge, bring it on.’"
"We’re ready for it and we’ll give it everything we have."