We have previously previewed eight NHL teams and where they are at in their pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup. We finish this series with a look at the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Unlike the other teams, we will look back as to what went right last year and discuss what the Bruins chances are of repeating.
The Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years having all the elements that are needed for a champion. Tim Thomas was outstanding in the Bruins net winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. In front of Thomas Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara led a solid defense. Offensively, the Bruins possess a deep forward group that provided timely scoring which being committed to defense. GM Peter Chiarelli augmented his core with late season trades for players who would thrive in Coach Claude Julien’s system during the playoff push.
As with any champion, the Bruins received some fortunate breaks along their path to glory. If Tim Thomas does not make that spectacular save on Brian Gionta in overtime of Game 7, there is not a Nathan Horton series winner, a Stanley Cup parade in Boston and nobody Googles the phrase “Brad Marchand shirtless”. Unlike the last two seasons where they suffered significant injuries and were bounced in the second round, the Bruins were fortunate as they were relatively healthy during the playoffs. Fourteen players (including Tim Thomas) played in every playoff game. The Bruins only used 13 forwards and 7 defensemen. By comparison the Canucks used 15 forwards and 10 defensemen. In the finals, the Canucks lost the war of attrition on defense due to injuries to Dan Hamhuis and Alexander Edler and the suspension to Aaron Rome.
As the baseball executive Branch Rickey once said “Luck is the residue of design”, the Bruins were lucky only because they were also very good. This was the best team in the league at even strength play. In the playoffs, the Bruins outscored their opponents by a league leading total of plus 28. In the finals the Bruins knew that to win they needed to have Thomas be the better goaltender and they had to neutralize the Sedin twins. They did both of those things while outscoring the Canucks by a whopping total of 23-8.
The Bruins succeeded last season from the goal out. They gave up the third fewest goals last season. Julien is a coach that stresses defense first and coaches a system that forces the Bruins opponents to away from the net and to shoot more from the perimeter. Tim Thomas won the Vezina with a record setting .938 save percentage and a league leading 2.00 goals against average. In front of Thomas and Tuukka Rask, Chara leads an underrated group on defense that can play a physical game and still move the puck. At 6’ 9” inches the extremely well-conditioned Chara might be the strongest player in the NHL. He also provides a booming shot and the ability to take over a game offensively and defensively. He is Bruins most important skater.
The Bruins forwards are a solid group and Julien maximizes their depth by playing their fourth line more than any coach does. The best player in this group is center Patrice Bergeron, who is terrific in all areas of the ice. Bergeron provides top line offensive play, but his offensive skill combined his ability to get loose pucks, win face-offs and kill penalties is what makes him special. To give a global perspective on what Bergeron provides, he is one a handful of players ever to win a Stanley Cup, an Olympic Goal Medal, a World Championship and a World Junior Championship. In each case Bergeron provides a different role for his winning club.
Scoring for the Bruins is expected to be handled by the first line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. Lucic came into his own last year as adding a scoring touch of 30 goals with his physical play, making him one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. Horton shook off a slow start to score 26 goals and was a plus 29. The key to this trio is Krejci who stepped into this role after Marc Savard was lost for the season. Krejci is an outstanding passer who consistently makes good decisions with the puck. This was evident in the playoffs as teams played off of Krejci daring him to shoot. Krejci responded by scoring a playoff leading 12 goals during the Bruins Stanley Cup run.
Unlike the Blackhawks the season before, the Bruins team will look very much like the team that won the Stanley Cup last year. Quick shooting and inconsistent Michael Ryder and puck moving defenseman Tomas Kaberle left for free agency. Chiarelli quickly found adequate replacements in Benoit Pouliot and Joe Corvo respectively. A bigger loss to the Bruins will be the retirement of future Hall of Famer Mark Reechi. Reechi provided the veteran presence that you would expect of a player who had already sipped champagne from the Cup twice before. On the ice Reechi provided secondary scoring from the tough parts of the ice. The Bruins hope that 19 year old Tyler Seguin can use his speed and hand skills to replace Reechi alongside of Bergeron and 21 goal scorer Marchand.
The Bruins have all of the same major pieces in place to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. However, the mathematics does not favor them in their quest to go back to back. Since 1990, only two teams have won successive Cups. The 2010-11 Bruins were a very good team first and foremost. That they stayed healthy in the playoffs while receiving outstanding play from Thomas made the difference. The odds are not in favor for this to happen for a second straight year, but the Bruins still have everything in place to take advantage of the opportunity if it presents itself.