BOSTON -- They are all well aware of the passage of time, of the year listed on their birth certificates, of the years that might be left for them in the NHL. The core of the Boston Bruins - defenseman Zdeno Chara, goaltender Tuukka Rask, and forwards Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand - know what they have and have not done since the 2012-2013 season, when they most recently reached the Stanley Cup Final.
Since then, the Bruins have made the Eastern Conference Second Round once (2014), the first round once (2017) and have finished out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice (2015, 2016). That is a recipe for wasting what had been built, a group good enough, at one point, to win the Stanley Cup in 2011.
But Chara is 40, and signed for one more season. Bergeron will be 32 by the time next season begins. Krejci is 31. Rask is 30. Marchand, the youngest of that core, turns 29 on May 11. Time and age and sports mortality will, at some point, become a factor.
Has that happened already?
"You want to win right now," Bergeron said. "We know … we're not stupid. We know we're getting older. But I think we've got to be excited with the young guys that are coming in, and that's definitely going to accelerate that window to win. It's definitely going to help.
"I know that management, I've talked to them in the past, I know they want to win as well. They have the same goal as I do, to win in the near future. So that's all I need to know. I'm definitely fighting for that every year."
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So there is hope, perhaps.
The Bruins, who have struggled to fill out their roster with young talent in the years since the Stanley Cup win saw several promising players flesh out their roster this season, including forward David Pastrnak, who scored 34 goals at age 20; defenseman Brandon Carlo, who held down a spot on the top defensive pairing, and defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who burst onto the scene with his NHL debut in the playoffs.
They represent the future. And maybe the future is coming in time to save the present. Or, as Marchand called it, "the next wave," one that gained experience in the playoffs this season, one that will bring potential and youth to a group that still has much to give.
"That's what we've missed the last few years, where we've had those young guys come in and really make a big difference," Marchand said. "That's what you need nowadays. You need young guys to come in and play like older guys, really help the team and produce. That's what we had. We had some guys do that this year. We're going to have more guys do that next year.
"If we're able to have that veteran core and a good group of young guys coming in to help, it's a good recipe. It's a recipe you need for success, and hopefully we can take advantage of that."
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The core has changed over the years. It used to include players such as forward Milan Lucic, who was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 2015 and signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers last summer, and defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was traded to the New York Islanders in 2014 because of salary cap constraints. Those were crucial players and crucial pieces who, it seemed, might continue on in Boston for quite some time.
The core is smaller, older and more battle-scarred. It has seen what it can do at this level, the heights it can reach, and it has seen how it feels to spend the summer with a host of "what ifs?" It will again this year.
And even as Bergeron admits that the time has gone on, that the group knows what happens each time a birthday comes around, it still believes in itself, even with the evidence of the past four seasons in front of it. It also believes that Pastrnak and Carlo and McAvoy and others, like forward Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, potential stars in the making, might be the antidote to the encroaching years.
"We all know that we're getting older, but I think that just drives us more to want to get back there," Marchand said. "We're hungrier to get back there. We know that time for our careers could wind down at some point.
"When you've been in it, and I was fortunate enough to win my first year, and the only other time we've been past the [second round] was the year we went to the Final again. So it doesn't happen all the time and you really have to cherish and take advantage of the time you do get."
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He's not alone in thinking that and feeling that. He's not alone in believing that this isn't the last anyone will hear from the Bruins core, from the group that delivered one championship and hopes another is not out of reach.
They hope those stars will arrive while they still have excellent hockey left in them, while they remain in their primes or just beyond. As Krejci said, "The only old guy is [Chara]."
"I think the core is still there," Krejci said. "I still think we have some good years left in us."