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Chiarelli: 'It's All About Experience'

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MA - With the regular season wrapped up, the Bruins have now shifted to preparing for their first round series against the Detroit Red Wings, which kicks off with Game 1 on Friday, April 18 at TD Garden.

The first step in that process, was a day off on Monday for the team.

During the off day, General Manager Peter Chiarelli addressed reporters Monday during a press conference at TD Garden.

Boston finished the season 54-19-9 with their 54 wins tied for the second most in franchise history. In doing so, they earned 117 points to take home the Presidents' Trophy as the top team in the League after the regular season.

The Bruins enter the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with their seventh straight postseason appearance, having reached the Final in two of their past three seasons. This core group, in short, has been through a lot.

"Well, it’s all about experience and these guys - I don’t know what our average age is - but there is a group of five, six, maybe eight players that are all in that kind of 26 to 29 range that are really key core players, maybe even 25 to 29," said Chiarelli.

"Even today - today is a perfect example - if they were coming into the playoffs for the first time, it might dominate their mind all day like ‘what’s it going to be like.'"

"These players know what they have to do, they know that you have to have a good practice tomorrow, a good practice the next day, have some rest, eat properly. All that stuff is in place, so it’s all about experience."

Amidst the group that Chiarelli alluded to, are the players who have been leaders and consistent performers for the Bruins all season: Patrice Bergeron (28), Milan Lucic (25) and David Krejci (27).

After Bergeron missed the 2007-08 playoffs, he, along with the rest of the core group, has been there every step of the way as the franchise made its postseason resurgence, and eventual run to the Cup in 2011.

Tuukka Rask (27) has been in Black & Gold just as long.

Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton may not be as young in age, but their veteran leadership and experience have been invaluable.

Besides that core, the Bruins have integrated more players along the way that have now taken on roles as leaders, each in his own way. Through the years, they've all established themselves as important pieces in the Black & Gold's team framework.

Johnny Boychuk carved himself out a role in 2009-10. That same season, Daniel Paille joined the team via trade and Brad Marchand saw his first NHL action.

In 2010-12, both Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell came to the Black & Gold through trades. Dougie Hamilton entered the fold in 2012-13.

This season, a group that has already been through so much together added new key pieces in Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith. Carl Soderberg emerged in a strong role. Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, along with Hamilton, have all solidified the Bruins' back end with the absence of Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid. Andrej Meszaros, Corey Potter and Jordan Caron have all provided depth insurance. Chad Johnson has done the same between the pipes.

By default, the Bruins who have been here through the past six or seven playoff appearances, have a hefty dose of experience. For the less experienced playoffs players on the roster, they learn from the leaders around them.

"Obviously, they have to get it done, and they have gotten it done before," said Chiarelli. "But it’s about experience and knowing what to expect and knowing that there are going to be ups and downs throughout the way, and to get through it on an even keel."

Exceeding Expectations

Throughout the course of the 2013-14 season, several Bruins went beyond any expectations. Reilly Smith earned NESN's 7th Player Award for his play, but there were also a number of other candidates who could have easily earned the award for their contributions, including Carl Soderberg, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug, among others.

"There’s been a lot of really good performances by players on this team," said Chiarelli. "We’ve got this Seventh Player Award, which everyone’s talking about, there were six or seven candidates for it. I don’t think there’s ever been that many candidates for it. So it speaks to kind of the performances across the board."

Bergeron's Best

Chiarelli joined the organization in May 2006. A 20-year-old Patrice Bergeron was fresh off the first 30-goal season of his career, in April 2006. He reached the milestone for the second time on April 12, 2014, almost eight years to the day.

Having seen Bergeron take the Bruins to the Stanley Cup, reach two Final appearances in three years, and play a significant role in Team Canada's Olympic gold in February, Chiarelli has seen the centerman at his best through the years.

But this season, he's reached an entirely new level of elite play.

"It's the best I've seen him. Period," said Chiarelli. "You know, the Olympics helped us out on a couple of different fronts. And Loui was another thing, his pace and his game really took off. Bergy, he started maybe as the 13th forward over there in Sochi, and everyone saw what he can do and he was basically on the top line at the end of the day. It helped his pace, it helped his tempo, and you know, you see him shoot the puck better this year."

"He's had a terrific year. And of course, the whole two-way component of his game is so good, it's always good. It's not by accident you hear his name in the Hart Trophy conversation, that doesn't surprise me at all. But this is the best I've seen him play."

NHL Awards 'Love'

With the regular season wrapped, Chiarelli made sure to plug his players who are likely candidates for for NHL Awards - Zdeno Chara for the Norris Trophy, Patrice Bergeron for the Selke, and Tuukka Rask for the Vezina.

"[Chara] should be in consideration for the Norris Trophy, no question," said Chiarelli. "While I'm talking about that, awards, I really believe that Patrice [Bergeron] has had a terrific year and the impact that he has had defensively and offensively has been outstanding and I think he should be in line for those awards too. And our goalie should too. So we’ve had some good performances, but I just wanted to put those out there, so that they get some love."

Defense Without Dennis

When Dennis Seidenberg went down, and Adam McQuaid went through an unfortunate season of nagging injuries, the Bruins' back end was in question. But three and a half months later, there's no lack of confidence from the Bruins in their eight defensemen heading into the postseason.

"I feel pretty good. I think what we ended up with was one of our goals, in augmenting in the aggregate, as opposed to finding that singular player to replace Dennis," said Chiarelli. "I knew I wasn’t going to do that - that player wasn’t out there. So I like the fact that we have eight D that can play."

"We’ve spent the last little bit experimenting with pairs, so we’ve had that luxury because of where we were in the standings. So that’s been very helpful and hopefully it’ll be two months and we’ll be using everybody."

Hamilton's Continued Growth

Dougie Hamilton has been progressing ever since the first day he suited up in the Spoked-B, in January 2013. Heading into his second Stanley Cup Playoffs, he's poised for a much larger role this time around.

"You hear me talk a lot, you hear Claude talk a lot about defending, and defending is so important in the playoffs, and I think that's an area that Dougie's really improved, and he will continue to improve," said Chiarelli. "But he's just getting stronger as a man, as a young man, he's getting more confident with his body and with his strength."

"For me, the biggest thing is his defending and his strength on the puck and it's gotten so much better. It still has to get better, because I project him to be a top defenseman, so he's on the right track."

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