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Bruins eye another run at Stanley Cup with 2011 core

Boston seeks infusion of youthful forward talent to support veteran leadership, Neely says

by Matt Kalman / Correspondent

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins believe they can win the Stanley Cup with the veteran core that won in 2011 and reached Game 7 of the Cup Final this season before losing 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues.

Five players on Boston's 2011 championship team remain integral parts of the Bruins. However, defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara is 42, center Patrice Bergeron will turn 34 next month, center David Krejci is 33, goalie Tuukka Rask is 32 and forward Brad Marchand is 31.

The plan of Bruins president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney is to fill in around their veteran core with younger talent to sustain success.

"When we hired Don [in 2015], that was certainly a conversation about, 'How do we take this core that won in '11 and give it another opportunity to win while they're still somewhat in their prime?' " Neely said at TD Garden on Tuesday. "And we still look at it that way. We know our players are now one year older and we're another year from winning in '11. So … we certainly have recognized what we have coming, what we need to have coming and who. We're talking pretty big shoes to fill.

"We still think that they've got some good hockey left in them. But we certainly know that it's winding down, so to speak."

Neely said even had the Bruins won Game 7 and the Cup, they would still be looking for ways to improve. Having come up one victory short of that goal, Boston has more urgency to strengthen weak spots on its roster.

"I know it's been talked about at length about [adding] another top-six forward, so we'll see where that ends up," Neely said. "We're obviously going to need to have some strong centermen coming through the system … with where Krejci and Bergeron are [in terms of age]. Our [defense], I'm pretty comfortable, obviously, with [Brandon] Carlo, [Charlie] McAvoy. [Matt] Grzelcyk played really well for us this year. Torey [Krug] had a strong year.

"Obviously Zdeno is another year older, but we've got a couple good, young left-handed prospects coming. And I think our bottom six was pretty strong this year, so if we can strengthen [the top six] in the immediate future … that's something we'd like to try and do. We've talked about that for a couple years now."

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Sweeney, a finalist for General Manager of the Year at the 2019 NHL Awards presented by Bridgestone in Las Vegas on Wednesday, has led Boston to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three consecutive seasons after the Bruins failed to qualify in 2015-16, his first season as GM.

"I think anytime [it's] your first time at anything there's some on-the-job learning that has to be done," Neely said. "Understanding the personalities of the other general managers is a big part of that, having those relationships, those conversations, and I think the more you do that, the more comfortable you feel. I think [Sweeney] has done a nice job in recognizing our strengths and weaknesses and trying to correct them throughout the year.

"Communication has been a strong suit of Don's. I think the communications skills with the coach [Bruce Cassidy], Don, myself, I think are extremely important. Not any one person has all the right answers, so I think he's done a really good job of being collaborative."

After Boston was eliminated in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2017 and the Eastern Conference Second Round in 2018, Sweeney hoped to help build a team capable of taking at least one more step.

The trip to the Cup Final might have happened ahead of schedule, according to owner Jeremy Jacobs.

"I think it way exceeded my original expectations," Jacobs said. "I thought we were more evolving … I thought we showed more maturity, more development than I thought we had gotten to. And it may have been circumstances, conditions that got us there, but it was an outstanding season.

"I think it says a lot about our management and a lot about our coaching. … There wasn't a person in the League that didn't say to me, 'You know, we really admire the way this team was built.' And I'm very proud of it."

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