Commentary

Bruins solid from top to bottom

Return to Cup finals validates front office, players as among NHL's elite

Updated: June 11, 2013, 4:22 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Whether or not the Boston Bruins win the 2013 Stanley Cup, this organization should be considered among the elite franchises in the NHL.

With president Cam Neely, general manager Peter Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien and, most importantly, the players, the Bruins have become a perennial championship-caliber hockey club. The 2011 Stanley Cup title was no fluke. This team is built on character and knowing how to play Boston Bruins hockey.

[+] EnlargeJulien
Jessica Rinaldi/Getty ImagesKeeping the bulk of the 2011 Cup champions together under Claude Julien has paid off for the Bruins.

When the puck drops for Game 1 of the Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night at United Center, both teams will have a chance to win a second championship in a three-year span.

The Bruins have earned a postseason berth in all six seasons of Julien's tenure in Boston. There have been a lot of lessons learned for the core of this team during that span. Some good, some bad. But through it all, the Bruins find themselves again competing for Lord Stanley's Cup.

"We wanted to prove as players that we're better than a first-round exit, and it wasn't a fluke winning the Cup and getting to the finals that year and going through what we went through," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "Getting back to the finals with the same exact core of guys -- missing [Tomas] Kaberle, [Michael] Ryder and [Mark] Recchi, which were three big pieces of the last one -- but being able to get back here is definitely a huge accomplishment for us. But it's still not over yet. We want more."

In the postgame locker room celebration following the Game 7 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Lucic made a public realization that had Boston lost that game, things could have been completely different come training camp in September.

If the Bruins hadn't provided a historic, come-from-behind win against the Maple Leafs, the 2013-14 roster, and possibly the coaching staff, could have been very different.

But the Bruins did come back, erasing a three-goal deficit in the final 10 minutes of regulation before winning in overtime. Afterward, Lucic stood at his stall, dripping with sweat, and proclaimed that moment a turning point for this group.

Since that game, the Bruins are 9-1.

"That was one of the biggest things we wanted to prove going into this year and this playoff run," Lucic said. "It probably all would have ended if we would have lost that Game 7 to Toronto -- who knows what would have happened going into next year. But we were able to find a way to win that hockey game, and hockey games after that, to get ourselves into this position."

There's nothing basic about Boston's winning blueprint.

If it were this easy to manage a salary cap while keeping chemistry and a mix of talented players on the roster, there would be more back-to-back champions. The Detroit Red Wings were the last team to win consecutive Cup titles, in 1997 and 1998.

After the Bruins won in 2011, Chiarelli & Co. believed in this group so much, the GM made sure to keep the core together. The only players from the '11 team not on the current roster are Kaberle, Ryder, Recchi and Tim Thomas.

"That's why Peter tried to keep the group together as much as he could," Julien said. "You're always going to lose a player or two here or there, but overall we still believed that this team could get another opportunity to get there. All you had to do was look at our team two years ago, we're still a young team. ... When you look at our team, we're not a team that's old, we're a team that's experienced."

Following Chicago's Cup run in 2010, that team completely changed and could not keep its winning roster intact. Only eight players remain from the 2010 team. Still, the remaining core propelled this year's squad back to the finals.

"You've got to give them a lot of credit for doing that. They've done a wonderful job of rebuilding their team and getting back into it," Julien said. "That year they had to let a lot of good players go, and they've managed to fill those gaps and some other guys have stepped in. It's a sign of a good organization, no doubt."

A total of 19 players on the current Bruins roster have combined for 22 championship rings, including 17 from the 2011 Cup team. Shawn Thornton also won with Anaheim in 2007, while Jay Pandolfo won twice (2000, 2003) with the New Jersey Devils, and Jaromir Jagr won a pair of Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

That experience both on and off the ice has helped the Bruins become perennial winners. If anything, it's helped the Bruins prepare better this season.

"It doesn't feel extremely real, but this time around it's nice, especially going through it with a similar group," Andrew Ference said. "Everybody is a lot more level-headed about it, maybe even more calm going into it."

"It's hard to keep teams together, especially in the salary-cap world," Ference added. "When teams start having success, it's extremely difficult to keep a group of guys together.

"As a group, it's nice to know we've gone through some struggles in some of the playoff years, and for the coach, the GM and management to have the confidence in us was big. Everybody has a pretty good understanding of what everybody can bring, and it's nice when everybody just does it. We're a pretty proud group."

Without using the term "hockey dynasty," the Bruins believe if they had dealt with the proverbial Stanley Cup hangover a bit differently in 2012 and hadn't lost in the first round to the Washington Capitals, another Cup run could have been possible given Boston's talent. Plus, all seven games against the Capitals were decided by one goal.

"You never know what could have happened, but I think definitely if we got out of that first round, anything could have happened with the teams that were left," Lucic said. "There's definitely a good feeling that we probably could have made a pretty significant run last year if we got out of that first round."

The Bruins have a genuine love and respect for one another. There are no superstars on the team, only teammates. Because of that mindset and philosophy, the Bruins have become perennial winners.

It's not a fluke. It's not luck. It's validation.

"It feels good we're back here again, a couple of years later," Bruins forward David Krejci said. "Most of the guys have been on this team. It's fun, but we also know the job's not done yet and the most important and hardest series is just in front of us."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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