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Elite Rask, Bergeron keeping Bruins optimistic

by Matt Kalman /

BOSTON -- Despite all the issues the Boston Bruins had last season, they finished within two points of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth.

A win here or there, especially if they fared better than 4-10 in shootouts, and the Bruins would have extended their postseason streak to eight seasons. Instead, they went home at the end of the regular season for the first time since 2007.

The Bruins are banking on a few new faces in the lineup to get them back in the playoffs.

Here are four reasons the Bruins should be optimistic:

Tuukka Rask remains an elite goalie: The 2013-14 Vezina Trophy winner didn't match his superb season in 2014-15, but he was very good. He had a 2.30 goals-against average and .922 save percentage playing an NHL career-high 70 games, third most in the League. He had a .930 even-strength save percentage and his .872 shorthanded save percentage was actually better than in his Vezina season (.868).

Rask, 28, said he didn't feel any worse for wear and was able to recover quickly after his most active season as a pro.

"I think obviously it's mentally draining when you're battling for that playoff spot and you play a lot of games in a row and stuff like that," he said. "You always feel kind of exhausted afterwards. But then when you do nothing for a week or two, then you're kind of like, 'All right, let's play hockey again.' You're kind of rejuvenated. I didn't feel like I took too much [more] time than usual."

Strength up the middle: Assuming a return to full health by David Krejci after he missed 35 games last season, the Bruins' top two centers, with Patrice Bergeron, remain the envy of all but a handful of teams in the NHL.

Bergeron won his third Selke Trophy last season after leading the NHL in faceoff percentage (.606). He led the Bruins with 55 points, and at 30 years old seems to be improving every season.

Krejci had 31 points in his 47 games despite lackluster performances from many of Boston's wings. He had 69 points in 80 games two seasons ago.

The Bruins were able to trade pending unrestricted free agent center Carl Soderberg to the Colorado Avalanche because Ryan Spooner emerged as a top-three center. The 23-year-old had 18 points in 24 games in the second half of the season, including five goals and four assists in the final 12.

Continuity behind the bench: It took Sweeney a couple weeks after he was promoted to GM to decide what to do about the coach. He wound up retaining Claude Julien and his staff.

The philosophies that have been adopted and the accountability that has been instilled by Julien and his assistants has paid off with the growth of a winning culture. One season out of the playoffs didn't change the Bruins brass' opinion.

Sweeney wants to add an element of aggression that will cause anxiety in opponents. Julien has shown the ability to tweak the Bruins' approach while maintaining the type of defensive responsibility that is the foundation for most championship teams. Given a healthy roster, Julien should be able to adapt again.

Push to get younger: By trading defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Milan Lucic and goaltender Martin Jones (who had been acquired in the trade for Lucic), Sweeney stocked up on prospects and draft picks for this year and next. The Bruins made 10 picks, including five in the first two rounds, at the 2015 NHL Draft to restock their system with prospects. Next year, the Bruins have their first-round pick and one from the San Jose Sharks. Combine the infusion of young talent with some flexibility under the NHL salary cap, and the Bruins aren't just in win-now mode; they're back to believing they can contend for the Stanley Cup several years in a row.

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