They spent weeks thinking about those 76 seconds.
The Bruins were headed for Chicago, for Game 7, for a chance to win their second Stanley Cup in three years — and then, well, they weren’t. It all fell apart in the span of 17 seconds and two goals by the Blackhawks, ruining what had been a brilliant story line for the Bruins.
So, yes, they spent weeks thinking about those 76 seconds in Game 6 of the Final, as the clock ticked down from the tying goal to the winning goal to the end of their season.
Then they shook it off, as their team got shaken up, with general manager Peter Chiarelli remaking key parts of a team that could have stood pat for the 2013-14 season. But the Bruins decided not to, shipping out Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley, deciding to let Andrew Ference and Jaromir Jagr go, bringing on Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson.
It was the opposite approach to what Chiarelli did after the team won the Cup in 2010-11, keeping the personnel and the chemistry intact. But this time, Chiarelli and the Bruins might have made the team better.
“It’s important, every once in a while, to get some fresh faces in and continue to create that excitement of being competitive and wanting to win every year,” coach Claude Julien said early in training camp. “Things can get stale after a while. That’s a known fact.
“I think what we’ve done is kept our core together — we’ve got some great leaders, a great core group of guys — and we’ve added some quality people in there, too.”
And the goal for the season is the same as it was, the same as it always is: to get back to the Final. To take the Cup this time.
“When you win the Cup, you’ve got to turn the page and say, ‘We’ve got to do it all over again,’ ” Julien said. “That doesn’t change when you lose in the finals. I think we have to turn the page and create ourselves another opportunity here.”
When Chiarelli’s contract was extended before training camp began, the GM noted that neither he nor the organization was satisfied, and that his goal was to keep the team at that level year after year after year. So he felt he had to make changes.
“We want to compete for the Stanley Cup every year,” Chiarelli said then. “It’s my mandate, my charge to do that. So we have to be proactive in this cap world, we have to be aggressive.”
That’s all the more true as the centerpiece of the Bruins ages. With Zdeno Chara 36 this year, the brain trust recognized that the team didn’t have years to wait for Seguin to develop. The time to win was now.
So Chiarelli refashioned parts of the team — some by his choice, some (Nathan Horton’s departure) not by his choice. He spent his summer locking up the long-term pieces that he needed — goalie Tuukka Rask and center Patrice Bergeron — and figuring out how to bring in the rest.
He looks, so far, to have been successful.
The top line, with Iginla now on the right wing in place of Horton, appeared to make a seamless transition in the preseason. The second line, with Eriksson now on right wing in place of Seguin, took slightly longer, but seems to be picking up steam with Bergeron on the mend from his postseason injuries. Both lines look as though they can generate the offense needed to support the always-exceptional defense played by Julien’s squad.
Added to that is a revamped power play that could finally be the answer to the Bruins’ years-long struggle with the man advantage. The team finished 26th in the NHL on the power play last season, but could see an uptick in production this year with Chara being used down low, plus the addition of Iginla and his 165 career power-play goals.
But there are, of course, question marks. How much does Iginla have left at 36? Will the revamped third line — with Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith joining Chris Kelly — look like the productive group of 2010-11 or the mess it was most of last season?
How will Chiarelli’s attempt at a youth movement go?
One of the GM’s key tasks this season was to get new, young blood. That will come both in the form of the defense — Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, and Matt Bartkowski — and in the form of third-line winger Smith, who came over from Dallas in the Seguin deal. And as the season goes along, possibly others will be added to that list.
“We’re going to see an influx of young players this year,” Chiarelli said. “They’re going to get a chance — not just the ones we have seen last year, but the other guys are going to get a chance.
“We’re going to have to make room and find players, because to make the commitments that we did to our core, although the cap is going to go up, you have to have flexibility, you have to have the other players coming.”
For now, though, it’s not about the cap. It’s about the players Chiarelli put together to compete this season, a group that looks primed to make the Bruins — potentially — even better than they were last year, at least in the regular season.
Last season’s group was able to turn it on when it mattered. It remains to be seen whether the Bruins can get back to the Final for what would be the third time in four years.
But right now, in the heady days before the season’s first game Thursday, it sure looks as if these Bruins have a chance.