BOSTON -- While the players were given a much-needed day of rest, the Boston Bruins management and coaching staff were hard at work to prepare the team for its Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup against the Washington Capitals, which begins Thursday at TD Garden.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli conducted a 20-minute conference call Sunday afternoon and discussed his thoughts on the regular season and his expectations for the playoffs. Here are some of his points:
Q: Did the team reach expectations this season as defending Stanley Cup champions?
Chiarelli: "We knew we were facing some challenges this year and we took every effort to try and deal with them in advance, prepare for them in advance and whether we addressed them or not, we got through the season and I’m satisfied. The season itself felt really like three different seasons, the start, the great stretch and the mediocrity I think in the middle, or the latter portion. The good finish is what I’ve grown accustomed to so I don’t put that as an additional part, so those kind of lines were drawn into segments.
"Having said all that, it seems whenever I describe a season I always talk about ups and downs, so that’s part of what happens in the season and we certainly saw that this year. I was very happy to see our last eight or nine games where I felt the group -- players and coaches -- really bared down and paid attention to detail and were able to focus on getting the momentum and I feel we’ve captured that. I see kind of right through the lineup, I see, I think, guys clicking. I’m happy that where we are now, all seasons are up and down unless you have some record-breaking season. I’m satisfied that we got through it and we are where we are now.”
Q: What do you think the team’s chances are to repeat as Cup champions?
Chiarelli: “I feel good about our team. I think we have more skill because I think our skill has matured from last year. It’s so tight, I mean you've got to get some luck along the way, but I think we’ve got as good a chance as any to come out of the East. We’re facing a pretty formidable foe to start. We haven’t matched up well against Washington and we kind of caught them when we were in a bit of a down swing each time it seems. So it’s going to be a good test to start.”
Q: Are you disappointed to play Washington in the first round?
Chiarelli: “I’ve gotten over the hoping to play somebody thing over the years. At some point, you’ll have to play these teams and beat them. Often times, the season matchup doesn’t translate into the postseason matchup. The record shows we haven’t played as well against Washington, and for that reason it will probably be a tough opponent. Not disappointed, just ready to move on and face them as tough opponents. Ottawa would have been just as hard.”
Q: What did you take away from the games against the Capitals this season?
Chiarelli: “Aside from the last game, I don’t think we played very well against them. We went through a pretty long stretch when we were average and I think we played them twice in that stretch. I’m not going to give you our matchups. The big thing is [Zdeno] Chara against [Alexander] Ovechkin. Chara takes pride in shutting down Ovechkin, so I think obviously you’re going to see that matchup. They have some good skill, some real good shooters and it’s important to keep those guys on the outside inside. There’s a preliminary game plan for you.”
Q: How will having Nicklas Backstrom back in the lineup will help the Capitals?
Chiarelli: "Backstrom’s certainly one of their best players, if not their best sometimes. He missed almost all the year, so you don’t have the 100 percent Backstrom, but the lesser percent of Backstrom is still a really good player. He’s able to slow the game down a bit, distribute pucks to other shooters. They have their skill, and he’s going to enable their skill and the shooters.”
Q: What’s the biggest challenge the Bruins face against the Capitals?
Chiarelli: "I think we have to shut down their skill. Between Ovechkin, [Alexander] Semin, Backstrom, they've got good skill in the back end. They’re a high-end skill team, and I think it’s really important we play the gaps tight in all three zones with these guys. And we can do that. That’s the biggest thing, and we have to get pucks on their goalie. If it’s the goalie that’s been playing, Braden Holtby, I think he’s a good, young goalie, he’s just inexperienced so we have to get traffic and pucks there.
Q: Does Holtby present a challenge for the Bruins?
Chiarelli: “I think at the start that’s what it would be, and over the past years we’ve seen young goalies steal series, so that can happen too. Generally speaking, when a goalie is inexperienced going into the playoffs there’s some nervousness, so you have to be opportunistic and get at it right away.”