- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- There's a quote painted in black-and-gold capital letters on the inside wall above the Boston Bruins' locker room door at TD Garden.
It was put there last summer after the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup. It reads: "DEMOLISH THE BRIDGES BEHIND YOU ... THEN THERE IS NO CHOICE BUT TO BUILD AGAIN."
The Bruins are ready to rebuild.
After completing a grueling, 82-game regular season as the Northeast Division champions and securing the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins are officially ready to defend their Stanley Cup title. They'll face the Washington Capitals in the first round.
The goal at the start of the season was to earn a postseason berth in hopes of returning to hockey's promised land. Boston will also attempt to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998) to repeat as Stanley Cup champion.
"Our No. 1 goal is the same it's been every year, and that's to make the playoffs," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the team's 4-3 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres in the regular-season finale Saturday at TD Garden. "And, I always keep saying the same thing over and over, that making the playoffs is a tough thing to do on a consistent basis. We've seen teams that have won the Cup and failed to make the playoffs the next year, we've seen teams win the Cup and just barely make it in. For us to win our division and get another season of over 100 points, I think it's a credit to those guys in there because it was a tough grind.
"We had ups and downs, but now we start that new season that everybody gets excited about, and we've got as good a chance as anybody else to win, and even though it's hard to, as they say, repeat nowadays, and it hasn't been done in a long time, we're certainly going to challenge that."
Julien was asked if there's an increased level of confidence as the team prepares for the first round with a chance to repeat.
"I don't know if it's increased, but there's confidence," he said. "But at the same time, it hasn't been done back-to-back in a long time and it hasn't been done often, either, over the course of the NHL's career. I think it's one of those things that we know is going to be a real challenge, probably even tougher than last year. That's when you hope the maturity of your hockey club is going to help you become even better that way."
The 2011-12 season was an intense challenge for the Bruins. They suffered through the so-called Stanley Cup hangover at the start but then became the best team in the league in the months of November and December.
Fatigue began to set in as the Bruins struggled to stay consistent in January, February and the early part of March. At that point, according to Julien, the players started to feel that playoff-type excitement again and the team started to play to the best of its ability, finishing the season strong.
"This is definitely what everyone has been waiting for us to get back to, so I think tonight and for now we should reflect and enjoy what we've accomplished this season," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "As long as it seemed, at times, it feels like yesterday that we just won [the Cup]. It went by real quick.
"We did a great job getting ourselves back in a position where we get that home-ice advantage in that first round, and I think everyone in this dressing room should be proud of what we've accomplished in the season."
A year ago, the Bruins were preparing for a deep playoff run, which lasted a total of 25 games before they hoisted the Cup on June 15 in Vancouver. The Bruins needed seven games to defeat the Canadiens in the quarterfinals.
Boston then swept the Philadelphia Flyers in four games -- sweet revenge for 2009-10, when the Bruins surrendered a 3-0 series lead and eventually lost in Game 7 of the 2010 semifinals.
The Bruins dismissed the Flyers last spring and reached the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Boston came out on top in the exciting series with a 1-0 win in Game 7 to advance to the Cup finals for the first time in 36 years.
It was pandemonium when the Bruins defeated the Canucks and brought the Cup back to Boston. The party lasted throughout the summer. When the Bruins returned for training camp in September, their goal was to repeat as champions.
"Before every season your goal is to make the playoffs and try to get home-ice advantage and we've done that," said Bruins forward David Krejci. "We can kind of say 'mission accomplished,' but the season basically starts right now. It's going to be a battle. It's going to be hard. There are going to be tough times and we've just got to battle through it. We all knew what it took last year, so we'll go out there and take it one game at a time and go from there."
Unlike most teams' playoff teams this spring, the Bruins can rely on their experience from last season's Cup run.
"I'm very excited," said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. "I think everybody's anxious to get it going, and everybody in this locker room loves playing in the playoffs. The intensity is so much higher and everybody just thrives in that atmosphere. Everybody is happy to get going.
"We definitely have the confidence, and our confidence level might be higher because we know we can do it, but on the other hand, every other team is gunning for us, trying to beat us and get us out of the playoffs. It's going to be tough every round because we're going to face an opponent that wants to be the champion."
The Bruins have a chance to defend their title mainly because there was little change to the team's Cup roster. Other than Mark Recchi, who retired, and Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle, who signed elsewhere as free agents, the Bruins remained intact for 2011-12.
The only newcomers who spent the majority of this season with the Bruins were defenseman Joe Corvo and forward Benoit Pouliot. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli added veteran forward Brian Rolston and defenseman Greg Zanon at the trade deadline.
Even though the new guys weren't around last season, they believe this team is set for a deep playoff run once again.
"I really think we are good and ready," Pouliot said. "For me, I've been in the playoffs but it's still going to be new being with the defending champs, because they know what they're doing and that's going to help me and Joe and the guys who haven't been here. We'll follow their lead and try to do what you're supposed to do and we'll be fine."
The regular season is over. The Bruins will have a chance to officially defend their Cup title.
"We still have a long way to go for the playoffs," Pouliot said. "As much as [the regular season] went by quick, we're anxious for what's coming."
This city and these fans are, too. That was evident in the waning minutes of Saturday's game as the 17,565 began to chant: "We want the Cup. We want the Cup. We want the Cup."
Finishing the regular season strong, the Bruins are poised for another Cup run.