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Bruins eager to turn things around

After missing playoffs back-to-back seasons, expectations are high

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The expectations are the same. They have always been the same. It's been the results that, over the past two seasons, haven't quite been there.

For consecutive seasons, the Boston Bruins have found themselves on the outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when all the dust settled on the final day of the regular season - just barely out, but out nonetheless - after a run of seven straight playoff appearances. Entering this season, the Bruins are making it clear that that is neither acceptable, nor something they want their players or coaches or staff or fans to get used to. That is not what this team wants, and that is not its plan for the coming season. 

The playoffs are the plan. But not only the playoffs. Not only making it back. The goals are bigger, as they have generally been over the past decade for the franchise, a decade that has included two Stanley Cup Final appearances and one championship.

"I expect them to get deep into the playoffs," owner Jeremy Jacobs said at the Bruins' Media Day on Tuesday.

The idea is that the mix of young players and older players, the core that the Bruins have been able to lock up to long-term contracts, including the recent extension for forward Brad Marchand, signed on Sept. 26 for eight years and $49 million, the goaltending, will all combine to get them back.

That's not enough, though.

"I don't want to just talk about making the playoffs," Bruins president Cam Neely said. "It's about a bigger goal than that for us here. Obviously to achieve that goal, you have to be within the postseason. That's something that [hasn't] happened the last couple of years. We were close, but we didn't make it.

"It's a result-oriented business. The goal is to continue to build for a championship club."

Video: Breaking down Brad Marchand's new contract

The question is whether the Bruins have built that team, at this point. With talent on the way, courtesy of nine picks in the first and second rounds of the past two NHL Drafts combined, it's possible that success is in the future, even the near future. But whether it happens this season likely comes down to the play of a defense that might see some of that future talent sooner than expected, in Brandon Carlo and Rob O'Gara, along with veterans Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and John-Michael Liles.

As Neely said, given that play of Carlo and O'Gara exceeded expectations in training camp, "It's a little bit of a luxury we weren't expecting."

It might not be a luxury, though. It might be a necessity, especially with the current injuries to defensemen Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid.

It's too early to wonder what the result will be if a playoff berth doesn't come this season. Now is the time for optimism, for high expectations, for new faces and new chemistry and a blank slate. But ultimately, there is pressure on this club. They know it. They feel it. They are not interested in another long summer.

"The commitment that the Bruins have made towards the players has been huge," forward Matt Beleskey said recently, looking around at the newly-built practice facility, Warrior Ice Arena. "And that's something we need to make back to them. I think the commitment in this room is huge. No one here wants to miss the playoffs three years in a row. That's terrible. One year is enough."

This is not the same team as the one that ended its season in April. There are new faces, whether they were signed (David Backes, signed on July 1 as a free agent) or promoted (Danton Heinen, Carlo, O'Gara, who spent 2015-2016 with the University of Denver, the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, and Yale, respectively).

But there are many still here, many who felt the sting of 2014-15, the bigger sting of last season, who understood that one single point stood between the Bruins making the postseason and not. That made the hurt all the more palpable, and made the team all the more committed to making things different this season.

"I think we're not going to let that happen," Krug said. "At times it would spiral out of control last year and we understand now that if things start to slip, we've got to get a grasp on things. Although last year [stunk] and it wasn't very fun, we've got to use it to learn.

"We say it every year: You don't want to have regrets, whether it's Game 3 or Game 79. You don't want to let those points slip. Shootout points are a big deal, overtime points are a big deal. You don't want to be giving up late leads and regretting that later in the season."

Or, to put it bluntly, every point matters. Every single point.

It's surely something that the Bruins will go into this season thinking about, remembering, acting on. That's the hope, at least. That's the plan. It's to be better, to play longer, to be the team that it believes it can be, given the talent on its roster.

It's to play into April and May and maybe even beyond, either this year or soon after.

"Our expectations," Jacobs said, "are high."

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