With the San Jose Sharks
knocked out in the first round, the Boston Bruins
become the de facto favorite to win the Stanley Cup after finishing one measly point behind the Sharks in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
But we have seen what became of the odds-on favorite in Round 1, right? Does a similar fate await these Bruins, who play the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes
is a second-round series that starts Friday night in Boston?
It's hard to imagine such an outcome after the way the Bruins dismantled their traditional rival, Montreal, in a stunningly effective first-round sweep. In that series, Boston reinforced what it had hinted at throughout the 82-game regular season: This is a team built to win the Stanley Cup.
First, the Bruins have a world-class goalie in Tim Thomas
, who has to be considered a serious threat to win the Vezina Trophy as the League's best goalie this year. Thomas has that battling spirit and limitless reserve of confidence that are hallmarks of Cup-winning goalies. He simply finds a way to stop the puck, much like Dominik Hasek
did in his prime.
Plus, Boston has a shut-down defenseman in the mold of Anaheim's Chris Pronger
, who led that team to a title two years ago. Zdeno Chara
, the Bruins' captain, is a big, mean bear of a man, who has learned to harness his emotions for the good of the team. He put the brakes on Montreal's top line and did not take a single penalty doing it.
Up front, there is stunning depth. Each of Boston's forward lines scored in the first-round series. They have a world-class set-up man in Marc Savard
and a proficient finisher in Michael Ryder
. Yet, they are so deep that those two can play on separate lines and still thrive.
In fact, Boston coach Claude Julien
has designed his lines in such a way that he has supreme confidence in his ability to roll his lines without much thought to the game situation, meaning the Bruins can dictate the nature of play and don't limit the amount of ice the top offensive players see because of a need to match.
Most importantly, the Bruins believe they can win now that they have exorcised the ghosts of Montreal in such convincing fashion. Julien has the team believing his system is the answer to Boston's quest for the city's first Stanley Cup in more than 30 years. His veterans are all-in with that message and have made sure that the younger players are on board.
And, it is those veterans that make the difference this time of year. It's players like defenseman Aaron Ward
, fourth-liner Shawn Thornton
and versatile forward Mark Recchi
-- all of whom have sipped champagne from the Stanley Cup and have lived through the sacrifices necessary to be bestowed such an honor -- that may well be the final piece of the championship puzzle for these Bruins.