Right around this time last year I made a bold prediction, no, a statement, in regards to the Boston Bruins: “This is the year.”
On June 15, the Bruins made sure I didn’t eat my words by winning their sixth Stanley Cup and first since the famous flight of No. 4. Three months later, the B’s are set to defend what they worked so hard to earn.
Not much has changed from last season; in fact, the B’s have seemingly improved. I will make no guarantees here, but I am confident in saying the black and gold are going to become the first team to repeat as champions since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 Detroit Red Wings. Here’s why.
Tim Thomas was thought to be all done following the 2009-2010 season after the emergence of Tuukka Rask, but then Timmy went to the doctor. After offseason hip surgery, Thomas rebounded to conduct one of the greatest seasons by a goalie in history.
Thomas posted 35 wins, a league best 2.00 goals against average (GAA), and an NHL record .938 save percentage, earning him his second Vezina Trophy in three seasons. In the playoffs he only got better en route to the Conn Smythe Trophy and that big silver cup thing. He is just the second goaltender in history to have won all three awards in one season.
Thomas will enter this season with great expectations, but I feel the need to warn fans in advance: Do not expect a repeat performance out of him, because the chances are very low. This does not mean I don’t expect great things from him, but what he did last year was beyond great.
Rask will see a good amount of playing time this season to keep Thomas fresh after his heroic playoff adventure left him with only a few months of recovery. Thomas is 37-years-old and human after all, so cut him a break.
Offensively, the first line of David Krejci centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton emerged as a true scoring threat last season.
Krejci, a playmaker by nature, has been asked by coaches to shoot more this season. He proved capable of scoring at will in the playoffs with 12 goals. Lucic set a career high with 30 goals during the regular season and tied for the team lead in points with 62.
Horton became a hero in Boston after scoring two overtime goals in the conference finals against Montreal. He was lost to a concussion during game three of the Stanley Cup Finals, but is “fully recovered.” Assuming this is true, Horton should easily break the 30-goal mark.
On the second line, the ever consistent Patrice Bergeron will have Brad Marchmont (excuse me Marchand) on one side, but as to who fills the other flank, we can only assume.
The retirement of Mark Recchi leaves a fillable hole talent-wise, but the leadership “Rex” provided cannot be replaced.
Tyler Seguin seems to be a worthy option after breaking out in game three of the conference finals against Tampa Bay (2 goals, 2 assists). Perhaps it will be Rich Peverley, who stepped it up in the postseason (4, 8). Provided Marchand doesn’t suffer a sophomore slump, this line should do just fine.
Chris Kelly will center the third line, but who he centers is a mystery. Rookie Jordan Caron got his feet wet last season and could be one answer. Ex-Canadien Benoit Pouliot arrived in the offseason to potentially fill the hole left by the departure of Michael Ryder, who signed with the Dallas Stars.
The fourth line, dubbed “The Merlot Line,” (for their maroon pratice jerseys) earned coach Claude Julien’s highest praises last year and stays intact for 2010-2011. Gregory Campbell will center Shawn Thornton and either Daniel Paille or one of the wings mentioned above.
The only departure on defense was Tomas Kaberle, who failed to resurrect the Bruins’ season-long power play disaster. Joe Corvo was acquired from Carolina to take his shot (no pun intended) at correcting the man-advantage situations.
Norris Trophy finalist and captain Zdeno Chara will likely be separated from his playoff partner Dennis Seidenberg to start the year. Johnny Boychuk could see time with Chara while Corvo jumps in with Seidenberg. The shutdown pair of Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid should stick together. Rookie Matt Bartkowski will provide insurance.
All the pieces are in place for a run at a repeat. If the B’s are able to avoid the dreaded “Stanley Cup Hangover” and avoid injury, the Cup should be vacationing in Beantown for the second straight summer.
Matt Fraser may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org