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Thursday, June 27, 2013
Bruins' core is here to stay

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Despite losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals, the Boston Bruins possess a winning blueprint that they plan to hang on to.

The organization has won one Cup with this core of players and came agonizingly close to accomplishing that again this season. If this core can remain relatively healthy, there's no reason to make major changes. "That's my mandate," GM Peter Chiarelli said. "I would expect to ice a team or build a team that would be a perennial contender every year. That doesn't change. There's a challenge with the lower cap and I think you'll see that challenge throughout the league. We're no different than anyone else, but we feel confident that if we have to move a player or two or not sign somebody, we feel confident with the core we have that we'll be able to find players or have players in the mix already that can fill that spot."

At the center of that core is Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron.

Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron
Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron are two of the biggest reasons for the Bruins' success this season.

He has been a leader on and off the ice his entire career. No one has ever doubted his passion for the game and for the Bruins. Playing with a broken rib, torn rib cartilage, a separated shoulder and possibly a punctured lung in Game 6 of the Cup finals against the Blackhawks only added to his legend. If there's one player of this generation who should remain with one team for his entire career, No. 37 is that guy.

"You can't say enough about him," said veteran forward and two-time Stanley Cup winner Shawn Thornton. "He's an inspiration. He's a man amongst boys, as far as the toughness goes. What he played through, I'm not sure how many guys could play through that. It was pretty impressive, that's for sure."

Under coach Claude Julien's tenure in Boston, the Bruins have reached the playoffs six consecutive seasons. They've reached the Cup finals twice in a three-year span and won a championship in 2011. The majority of this group has experienced almost everything possible on and off the ice, and it's only made this team stronger. With homegrown talent in Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, along with the mix of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly, Thornton, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, this team has emerged as one of the best in the NHL. "It's definitely a lot different than it was talking back in 2008 in this [exit-day] interview," Lucic said. "We've shown we're a championship-caliber team, winning a Cup two years ago and getting back to the finals again this year. We've created a lot of buzz in the city the last couple of years and being up there with the other teams here in Boston, so hopefully we can continue that here. We didn't win this year, so it should make us hungry going into next year. We have a lot to look forward to going into next season." When the Bruins return for training camp in the first week of September (it's earlier due to the Olympics), there will be some changes to the regular-season schedule with only two divisions in each conference, including the travel to every city. But those factors shouldn't bother this team or the chemistry the players and coaches have created.

Dennis Seidenberg #44, Zdeno Chara #33, Milan Lucic #17, David Krecji #46 and Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins
Dennis Seidenberg, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, David Krecji and Nathan Horton give the Bruins a solid core for the foreseeable future.

"We definitely have a good foundation here," Marchand said. "That doesn't mean we could be back in the Cup finals again. To be here, everything has to go right. You can't have your guys getting injured early on and you need the right breaks. Every year is different, but hopefully we are able to find a way back here again."

A big part of the Bruins' success, of course, has been solid goaltending. Tim Thomas led the team to a Cup title in 2011, and Rask helped Boston reach the finals in 2013. The 26-year-old goalie was one of the most consistent players for the Bruins this spring, and had Boston won the Cup, Rask probably would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Rask is expected to sign a lucrative, long-term contract with the Bruins at some point soon.

"The core is there and we've done a good job of bringing the younger guys in, and they've fit in really good," Rask said. "I think we just have to keep doing that, keeping our focus on the right things and not letting it slip. Yes, I think we have a chance to bring the Cup back soon and keep having success."

From a veterans standpoint, Chara and Seidenberg are the anchors on the blue line. Along with now-veterans Boychuk and McQuaid, rookies Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski are expected to see more ice time in 2013-2014 (barring any trades this summer).

Chiarelli informed defenseman Andrew Ference on Wednesday that the team will not re-sign him due to salary-cap constraints. Boston is at its best when its defensive game is strong. With the back end in place, the Bruins should continue to have success. "A lot," Seidenberg said. "The core is in place and there's a couple of guys that need to be taken care of and I'm sure the front office is going to take care of it. Most of the guys are locked up for a while, especially the main guys, and it's a good mix between young and old guys and that's what you want to have when you go forward."

Defenseman Wade Redden, who was picked up at the trade deadline, said he would like to return to the Bruins. If he is re-signed, his role would likely be as a depth guy on the blue line.

During his limited time in Boston, Redden learned firsthand how good this team is and can continue to be.

"I think they're going to be one of the top teams for a while," he said. "They have some great players here. They play a great style and they're hungry. There's a group of guys here who lead the way and are hungry and compete hard all the time. It's a good sign for them."

One thing is for certain: The Boston Bruins have regained their popularity in Boston, and fans want more. The Bruins have the players and resources to continue to be perennial winners, it's only a matter of wanting it. "One of the most underrated things is the fact this team has made the playoffs six years in a row. That's very difficult to do," said Ference, the outgoing assistant captain. "Whether it's through adversity, or injuries, or hot streaks, or cold streaks, to reach the playoffs over that length of time these guys are very proud of that. Once you get to the playoffs, the results have been varied, sometimes dramatic, but the fact to get there over the course of six seasons was a really good accomplishment. It solidified this team as a really solid organization."