BOSTON -- When Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli stepped to the podium less than 15 hours after the organization celebrated its Eastern Conference championship over the Tampa Bay Lightning and subsequent berth to the Stanley Cup finals, he looked weary.
But as soon as he started to discuss the players and their accomplishments, the GM took his eyeglasses off, placed them on the table, broke into a big smile and talked about what it's been like since the Bruins dismissed the Lightning on Friday night at TD Garden in a perfectly played hockey game.
"Well, obviously there was happiness when the time expired -- at first when Nathan [Horton]scored that goal and secondly when the time expired. It was a special feeling," Chiarelli said of the Bruins' 1-0 Game 7 win. "You look over and see the ice, see these guys and watch how they celebrate, how emotional they are. And you look and try to see each of them to see how they would react. You felt good for them, you really felt good for them."
A team, a city and a hockey region celebrated the fact that the Bruins are returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990. This team has the opportunity to hoist Boston's first Stanley Cup since 1972.
During Friday's celebration, it didn't take long for Chiarelli, who is in his fifth season as the club's GM, to realize the significance of what the 2010-11 team had just accomplished.
"Then immediately after that feeling passed, I realized that we have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. And I'm still feeling that today," he said. "That's a great feeling. So it's a tremendous feeling, and it's a feeling of anticipation and excitement."
The Bruins finally own the sports landscape in this town, and deservedly so. The Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics have all won championships in the past decade, and now the Bruins have an opportunity to join the crowd.
Chiarelli admitted it's something he's been thinking about.
"It hasn't been in the back of my mind, it's been in the forefront of my mind, and the players' and the rest of our group," he said. "You obviously can't avoid it. And I've become cheerleaders of these other teams. You follow them, you cheer for them and at the same time, the standard that they've set gets higher and higher. So you recognize that your job is harder."
As much as the Bruins and their fans are feeling a sense of accomplishment, Boston still needs four more wins to achieve its ultimate goal.
You look over and see the ice, see these guys and watch how they celebrate, how emotional they are. And you look and try to see each of them to see how they would react. You felt good for them, you really felt good for them.
”-- Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli
It won't be an easy task, and the Vancouver Canucks have been patiently waiting for the Bruins to arrive in the Pacific Northwest for Game 1 of the Cup finals on Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
These teams met only once during the 2010-11 season, which resulted in a 3-1 win for the Bruins on Feb. 26 at Vancouver. Boston was in the midst of playing its best hockey of the regular season and finished that road trip with a 6-0-0 record.
"That game was one of the best games I've seen, the game that we played against them, one of the best games that we've played throughout the year," Chiarelli said.
Sure, that was the regular season and those games mean absolutely nothing when the Stanley Cup is on the line. Chiarelli added he believes the two remaining teams match up evenly in most aspects.
The other thing to consider is the travel and schedule for the Cup finals.
The Bruins will practice Monday in Boston and then travel to Vancouver. The teams will practice Tuesday with puck drop for Game 1 on Wednesday at Rogers Arena. There will be two days off between Games 1 and 2, before the teams make the trek to Boston for Games 3 and 4 on June 6 and 8.
The remaining if-necessary games will take the teams back and forth across North America. Game 5 would be on June 10 in Vancouver; Game 6 would be played in Boston on June 13; Game 7 would be played on June 15 in Vancouver.
The travel will be a challenge for both organizations, but no one ever said winning the hardest trophy to get in all of professional sports would be an easy task.
"We're relatively healthy; to keep the guys sharp between series, I don't think that's going to be too hard," Chiarelli said. "We're going to be back on the ice [Sunday]. We're going to take off on Monday. So the challenge is travel."
Chiarelli said prior to the start of the playoffs that to consider this a successful season, the team would have to reach the conference finals. It did that. Now it's trying to accomplish something much more prestigious.
"Like [Bruins coach] Claude [Julien] said to the group after the game [Friday], we got four more wins we got to go get," Chiarelli said. "So enjoy this but then let's get back to work on Sunday."
If Chiarelli was this worn out after the Eastern Conference finals, one could only imagine what he'll be like after this upcoming series to determine the winner of the Stanley Cup.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.