In June of 2011, Patrice Bergeron was not engaged. Neither Johnny Boychuk nor Gregory Campbell had married their wives. Milan Lucic had yet to become a father. Dennis Seidenberg had just two children.
They are different men now. Bergeron’s wedding is this summer. Boychuk and Campbell are married. Lucic has a daughter. Seidenberg has a boy to accompany his two daughters.
The Bruins are two years older. Hair has waned for some, thickened for others. But the moment that was frozen in time, when the Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup on June 15, 2011, remains as the indelible connection that most of this year’s club brings into Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Of the 20 players likely to wear Black and Gold on Wednesday at TD Garden, 17 were present at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena that winning night. This will be the last time the Bruins launch another postseason with that many players who pulled on champagne and smoked victory cigars through the bushiest beards of their lives.
Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference, and Anton Khudobin will be unrestricted free agents at season’s end. It’s possible all will walk. The Bruins must monitor their 2013-14 payroll to become cap compliant under the $64.3 million ceiling.
Rich Peverley ($3.25 million annual cap hit) and Chris Kelly ($3 million), who underachieved this season, are trade risks. With youngsters such as Dougie Hamilton, Niklas Svedberg, Ryan Spooner, Matt Bartkowski, and Torey Krug pushing for greater roles on the varsity, the Bruins will undergo change during the offseason.
But that can wait until the Bruins complete the task they fell short of accomplishing last year. They intend to prove that a one-and-done run against Washington in 2011-12 is the anomaly, not a hint of what might befall them once more.
“Last year, we had an early exit,” Boychuk said. “We want to redeem ourselves from that. Two years ago, it’s a different team in here. We have a core group. But there’s still a couple changes. I think with our team here, there’s a very good chance we can probably do it again.”
The Cup run has served as a team-building template. Tuukka Rask is in Tim Thomas’s position as the ace goalie. Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara, the shutdown strongmen, are back together again. Ference and Boychuk, the second pairing in the 2011 playoffs, are the No. 2 duo once more. Wade Redden is the Tomas Kaberle of this year — a veteran, puck-moving, left-shot defenseman to complement Adam McQuaid’s stay-at-home snarl.
Up front, there are familiar duos: Lucic and David Krejci, Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The smashmouth fourth line of Campbell between Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton should work hard, forecheck, and create energy.
Jaromir Jagr will play Mark Recchi’s role. Both right wings were acquired in search of their third Cup (Jagr and Recchi were teammates on Pittsburgh’s 1991 championship club).
The Bruins tapped that fluency to begin the 2013 season. Because of the lockout-shortened training camp and compressed regular season, the Bruins knew that a hot start would be critical. The Bruins went 14-2-2 to start the year.
“There’s definitely a familiarity with each other in here,” Thornton said. “We’ve had pretty much the same group over the last two or three years. I think it definitely helped our chemistry at the beginning of the year when we got off to that hot start. I’m hoping it helps in the playoffs once it gets going.”
The Bruins need a bump from their familiarity to kick off the series against Toronto. The Bruins lost three of their last four regular-season games. They could have clinched the Northeast Division title and the No. 2 seed had they taken care of business against Washington and Ottawa. They gave away a third-period lead against the Capitals. They fell behind by two goals to the Senators, tied the game, but gave up two goals in the third.
Like they’ve been for the second half of the season, the Bruins have too many players pulling when others are pushing. Rask (19-10-5, 2.00 goals-against average, .929 save percentage) has been consistent. But in front of Rask, Chara’s play has sagged under the weight of unforced turnovers and questionable decision-making.
“Obviously you want him to be firing on all cylinders, so like the rest of them, he’s got to get his game back,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said during a Monday conference call. “With Z, it’s about a strong defensive game, nothing fancy, big shots, a lot of straight lines. He’s obviously important to the team. A lot of guys follow. He’s got a lot of experience, and we expect him to get his game back to where it has to be.”
The same problem is happening up front. Lucic has finally hit his stride. The fourth line is skating fluidly, banging bodies, and creating scoring chances.
But at the same time, the all-around line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin, the team’s most consistent threesome all season, is entering the postseason with too many zeroes after their names. Marchand is scoreless in his last three games and took an undisciplined slashing penalty on Erik Karlsson at the end of Sunday’s first period.
Seguin is also without a point in his last three games. In the second period against Ottawa, he missed the net on a sparkling chance. After Seguin’s miss, the Senators went the other way and scored their second goal.
Bergeron, the team’s best all-around player, is also scoreless in his last three outings.
“I thought we did have some chances,” Bergeron said of the line’s most recent games. “We just didn’t put the puck in. That’s what we need to correct, just find the back of the net.’’ It’s not to think about what’s happened. It’s to look forward.”
Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur, Carl Gunnarson, and James Reimer are among Toronto’s most important players. None has played in an NHL playoff game.
For their Boston counterparts, the playoffs have been a given. All those postseason games together should mean something. Especially since this will be this group’s final swing for a home run.