The Bruins have regained their form at just the right time.
They eclipsed the 100-point plateau for the 2nd straight season, winning the Northeast division and securing the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
After a long up-and-down season, the defending Stanley Cup champions are ready to defend their title. The Bruins battled through the Stanley Cup hangover in October only to turn things around by going undefeated in November.
Claude Julien was able to push all the right buttons and keep his team on track to make another deep run.
While Tim Thomas has regressed from the outstanding Vezina winning season he had last year, he has regained his form and will be the anchor behind Julien’s defensive-oriented team. In addition to the outstanding defense, the Bruins have improved offensively.
Driven by the development of Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand, the Bruins offense has scored the 2nd most goals in the NHL. Until Seguin becomes a superstar, the Bruins offense is built on balance. With six players scoring at least 20 goals and seven players recording at least 40 points, the Bruins are one of the most balanced teams in the NHL.
This year, the Bruins enter the playoffs with experience and confidence.
Entering the playoffs last year Julien still had to prove he could win with a defensive-minded team. Thomas and the rest of the Bruins also had to erase the memory of losing to the Flyers after being up 3-0 in the semifinals the season before.
Who needs to step it up for the Bruins to repeat?
After winning it all last year, this year’s team will enter the playoffs with experience and the understanding of what it takes to get through the grind that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.
According to ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald, Julien thinks his team is prepared for the playoffs saying,
"Our No. 1 goal is the same it's been every year, and that's to make the playoffs…We had ups and downs, but now we start that new season that everybody gets excited about, and we've got as good a chance as anybody else to win, and even though it's hard to, as they say, repeat nowadays, and it hasn't been done in a long time, we're certainly going to challenge that."
The Bruins have the same core that won the title last season.
The Bruins will have a shot at defending their title largely because they retained most of the players from last year’s team. GM Peter Chiarelli brought in replacements during the offseason and made minor moves at the trading deadline to add depth, but kept the core of the team intact.
Chiarelli replaced Mike Recchi, Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle with Benoit Pouliout, Brian Rolston and Greg Zanon. Recchi and his 22 years of experience will be hard to replace, but Brian Rolston provides a similar veteran presence on the wing.
The best decision Chiarelli made was letting Kaberle leave as it was a major addition by subtraction. He brought in Joe Corvo as his replacement, but when he became unreliable Chiarelli traded for Zanon providing Julien with a dependable option the point allowing him to bench Corvo.
Last year Nathan Horton stepped it up in the playoffs scoring game-winning goals up until he was knocked out with a concussion in the finals.
This year, Pouliout needs to step up and provide a similar offensive punch. Pouliout, like Horton, was a top-five pick and has struggled to live up to expectations. While Pouliout may not be the complete player that Horton is, he is a talented offensive player that adds another dimension to the Bruins offense.
Julien utilizes the lineup that won for him last year.
Depending on how Julien puts together his lines, three of the four offensive lines and the top two defensive pairings may be identical to those that skated against the Canucks in the last game of the playoffs last season.
Not only is the core returning, but the top two offensive lines are hitting on all cylinders.
Over the last five games, the Lucic-Krejci-Peverly line amassed 5 goals and 13 points and the Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin line totaled 6 goals and 16 points. In order for the Bruins to have success in the playoffs the top two lines will need to build on their recent success.
As great as the offense has been recently, the defense has also taken shape at the perfect time. Last season the pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg handcuffed every top line they faced. Chara and Seidenberg partnered to form a smart and extremely physical duo that punished opponents on the road to winning the championship.
Julien has paired them up again in the final weeks of the season and they have regained their form as a suffocating defensive pairing.
The 2011-12 Bruins have gone through a rollercoaster regular season. Now that it is over and the playoffs are set to begin they must dig deep and focus in order to defend the cup and become the first back-to-back champions since the Detroit Red Wings defended their title in 1998.