BOSTON -- One overtime goal kept the Bruins from an Eastern Conference final showdown with Pittsburgh last spring.
Instead of the top-seeded Bruins, the Penguins faced Carolina -- and Pittsburgh promptly swept the Hurricanes before edging Detroit in seven games for the Stanley Cup. For the first time this season, the Bruins get to see how they stack up against the best of the best tonight at TD Garden.
"I think we definitely respect what Pittsburgh brings to the table and what they've done this year. They've gotten off to a great start, obviously. But we still feel like everything that we're concerned about is in this locker room," Bruins winger Blake Wheeler said after the morning skate today. "Everything that we're concerned about is in this locker room. If we take care of what we need to take care of, then we feel like we give ourselves a great chance every night. So for us it's all about just making sure that we bring the same mentality into this game that we did last game. And if we do that, we're going to have a good shot."
There has been no Stanley Cup "hangover" in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are on top of the Eastern Conference with a 12-5-0 record, even after dropping their last two games. Pittsburgh has managed to collect points in the standings even while star forward Evgeni Malkin and power-play quarterback Sergei Gonchar have missed extended periods of time with injuries.
And then there's the age-old problem of other teams circling the date on the calendar when they're going to face the defending champs. For some clubs, beating the champs can make their season. And for some it could just serve as a season-turning accomplishment.
"It's been a difficult start to the season," said center Jordan Staal. "Every game has been a battle, some tight games that we've come out on top. And obviously the last couple we've had some tough games. Every night's going to be difficult, we know that. It's just a new challenge for our team."
For the most part, the Bruins aren't looking at this game as anything more than a chance to beat one of the league's most talented clubs and also put together consecutive wins for the first time this season. A triumph would lift the 7-7-2 Bruins over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
"We've been playing well. We knew it was going to come if we stuck with it," said forward Mark Recchi. "Give the credit to a lot of these guys in here, they didn't stray from what our coaches wanted and played great defensively and kept getting pucks to the net and finally a couple went in for us."
Many of the Bruins couldn't bear to watch the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs once they were eliminated. Wheeler, however, said he did tune in for the final between the Pens and Red Wings. And it was impossible to not think about what might have been for Boston.
"It definitely stung a lot last year being so close last year to being able to compete for the right to play for the Stanley Cup," the second-year forward said. "It's something guys definitely were motivated about and would've loved to have the chance to play against Pittsburgh. It didn't work out that way, but it's a new year now and we're going to give it our best shot tonight."