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BOSTON -- Coach Claude Julien described it as a privilege for the Boston Bruins as they prepare for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs and a first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins concluded the lockout-shortened, 48-game schedule with a 28-14-6 record for 62 points and finished second in the Northeast Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
"We're in it, so let's be happy about being in it and let's take advantage of the chance we're being given right now," Julien said. "That's what it should be all about and we've seen a lot of weird things happen in the playoffs where the dark horse comes up big, or it's not always the team that finishes first. Everybody has an equal chance and that includes us."
The goal at the start of the condensed season, as it is every season, was to win the division. The Bruins had a chance to achieve that Sunday night by beating the Senators, but it didn't happen. Even so, it took only a few minutes after Boston's 4-2 loss to Ottawa for the Bruins to turn their focus to the playoffs.
The storylines will be plentiful against the Maple Leafs. The series begins with Games 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Saturday at TD Garden.
The "Thank You, Kessel" chants will be deafening at the Garden. Of course, that's a reference to the trade Boston made in 2009 to send forward Phil Kessel to Toronto in exchange for the Maple Leafs' first- and second-round picks in the 2010 draft and their first-round pick in 2011. The Bruins used the 2010 picks to select forwards Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight, and the 2011 pick on defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
For Seguin, the series presents an opportunity to play against his hometown team.
"I can definitely say I'm excited already, I think all of us are just to get into the playoffs again," Seguin said. "Obviously the Leafs, this is their first time making the playoffs since 2004 and the first time since I've been watching them growing up, so it's definitely going to be a fun experience. We've got a few days here to get ready.
"I'm going to be off Twitter and I've already gotten a few text messages asking for tickets, so I might turn my phone off too. It's exciting and kind of a cool experience as well that we're playing them in the playoffs."
The Bruins held a 3-1-0 record against the Leafs this season. In fact, the Bruins have dominated Toronto the last couple of years. But anything can happen in the playoffs.
Even before the regular season ended Sunday night, Julien and his staff already began dissecting the team's possible playoff opponents. Now all the focus will be on the Maple Leafs.
"They're a team that earned a spot in the playoffs because they play a real tough type of game and they grind it out," Julien said. "They've got toughness. They've got skill. They've got speed. They've got a mixture of everything. It's a team that's well coached and our games against them have been close this year. It's going to be an interesting series."
The Bruins did not play well down the stretch and had too many inconsistencies. But the feeling in the room is positive now that the playoffs have arrived.
"Other than that Philly game, the last six or seven games I think we've been playing the right way," Bruins veteran Shawn Thornton said. "We haven't been able to bury the amount of chances we get, but we're getting the chances and we've been playing with emotion. Honestly, tonight is another game we could have won if we buried our opportunities, so let's hope that being snake bit is behind us and we can bury [it]."
The lack of offense has been alarming for the Bruins. During their last nine games -- a stretch in which they went 2-5-2 -- Boston produced only 18 goals.
|Tuukka Rask says his concern is helping the Bruins beat Toronto, not how he fared in the 2010 playoffs.|
"Probably our biggest challenge going into the playoffs is the ability to score some goals," Julien said. "If we can find that it'll make a big difference in our team because five-on-five, for the most part, we've been much better lately and we've created a lot of scoring chances. But at the end of the day, that's the main thing that is hurting us. If we take care of that and stay out of the penalty box, that'll help our team stabilize itself."
How do you capitalize on those chances?
"It's pretty simple: You've got to get your nose a little dirtier and you've got to have the confidence to shoot," Julien said. "Even just [Saturday night vs. Washington] we had five scoring chances off net and if you don't hit the net, you don't score. We have to hit the net.
"At the same time, we all know teams that want to get their nose dirty in front of the net during the playoffs will get rewarded. We have the guys who have the ability to do that and now we've got to get them to do it."
"We like our team. We like our chances," forward David Krejci said. "We have to regroup first and get ready. We have to stay positive and take the positive things out of the game."
If the Bruins can't find their scoring touch, then they will need goaltender Tuukka Rask to stand on his head. This will be his first playoff action since 2010, when he was the team's No. 1 goalie. He outlasted the Buffalo Sabres and goalie Ryan Miller in the first round to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins had a 3-0 series lead, but imploded and lost four straight. Rask believes he's a more mature goalie this time around.
"Obviously, I want to help the team win series and that's my biggest concern," Rask said. "I'm not trying to prove people wrong or anything like that. I'll just try to play as good as I can and help the team win a series and see where that leads us. You gain experience over the years."
Forget about the 2011 Stanley Cup title. At this stage of the season, the Bruins' accomplishments of two years ago mean nothing to them. Julien will not make any sort of comparison to the Cup-winning team and the players don't want to think about that either.
"I'm a little sick of talking about two years ago," Thornton said. "That was a long time ago. It's a new team, a new chapter and just because we accomplished something two years ago doesn't mean it's going to be automatic. We should have that anger and hunger that we haven't been as good as we were then, so I'm more focused on trying to prove it again."
Of course, there will be a lot of talk about what kind of chemistry this team has, even with the core of the Cup team still in place. Ask any Bruins players and that's one category they're not worried about.
"I love these guys," Thornton said. "We've got a tight-knit group and we're built to have a lot of success if we play the right way."
The privilege has arrived. The "new" season is here. The Bruins have reached the playoffs six consecutive seasons, and they hope to go a lot deeper than they did last spring, when they lost in the first round to the Washington Capitals in seven games.
"We've earned a spot in the playoffs and we should be proud of that," Julien said. "There are a lot of teams right now doing something a lot different than what we're doing and we should be happy about that.
"You start from scratch and everybody has the same record going into the playoffs and it's a new season. It's an opportunity for us to challenge for the Cup. We have to get ourselves ready here in the next few days and hopefully build some good momentum moving forward."