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Will Boston Bruins Avoid Stanley Cup Hangover in 2013-14 Season?

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 24:  Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins checks Bryan Bickell #29 of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2013

The Boston Bruins' brilliant run in the playoffs was destroyed over a 17-second span in the final moments of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

When Bryan Bickell of the Chicago Blackhawks scored the tying goal with 1:16 left in the third period, and Dave Bolland followed with Stanley Cup-winning goal with just 59 seconds remaining, the Bruins' dreams of a second Stanley Cup in three years went down the drain.

But the pain may not end there. The last four Stanley Cup losers have all failed to match the success they had in their previous seasons.

The Bruins are going to have to overcome a recent trend if they are going to avoid such a fate in 2013-14.

The teams in question are the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks and the New Jersey Devils. While three of those teams enjoyed similar regular-season success the year after losing in the Stanley Cup Final, none of those teams played the kind of explosive hockey that got them to the Stanley Cup Final the year before. The Devils did not even make the playoffs after losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

TeamYearLost to in Stanley Cup FinalsFollowing Regular-Season ResultsFollowing Postseason results
Detroit Red Wings2009Pittsburgh Penguins102 pts; Fifth placeLost in Second Round to San Jose Sharks (4-1)
Philadelphia Flyers2010Chicago Blackhawks106 pts; Second placeLost in Second Round to Boston Bruins (4-0)
Vancouver Canucks2011Boston Bruins111 pts; First placeLost in First Round to Los Angeles Kings (4-1)
New Jersey Devils2012Los Angeles Kings48 pts; Tied for 12th placeFailed to make playoffs

 

The Red Wings, Flyers and Canucks all went out of the playoffs in ignominious fashion, as they were bounced by teams that were either on the rise of had something to prove.

The 2010 Sharks had never been out of the Western Conference playoffs while the Red Wings were relying on an aging roster that included Nicklas Lidstrom in 2010. The Red Wings had enough in the tank to get by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round, but it took seven games for them to get by that unheralded team.

They were favored to get by the Sharks, but they lost the first three games before rallying for a pride win in the fourth game and then bowed out.

The Flyers had a fine regular season after losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, and head coach Peter Laviolette thought they were poised to win the championship in 2011. However, after beating the Buffalo Sabres in the opening round, they had to face the Boston Bruins in the second round.

The Flyers had defeated the Bruins the previous year in memorable fashion, as they became the third team in NHL history to win a playoff series after losing the first three games. The revenge-minded Bruins got it, sweeping the bewildered Flyers right out of the playoffs.

The Canucks had been stunned and mortified as they lost the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Bruins in seven games. They managed to win the President's Trophy in 2011-12, but the Canucks' spirit seemed broken as they returned to the playoffs. They lost their first-round matchup to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.

The Devils shocked the hockey world by getting to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 before losing to the Kings, but they had no such success in 2013. The Devils were devastated in the offseason when they lost free agent Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild, and the financially beleaguered team did not come close to a playoff return.

The Bruins got a whiff of the Stanley Cup last June when they took a 2-1 lead after the third game. They were also just a little more than one minute away from forcing a seventh game, but they could not maintain their late lead.

Those two factors will make their Stanley Cup depression difficult to overcome. It's one thing to get blown out; it's quite another to get tantalizingly close.

Personnel issues could also play a role in making it difficult to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Bruins have a strong core, led by goalie Tuukka Rask, defenseman Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron. Rask, 26, should only get better after his first full season as the Bruins' No. 1 goalie. That scenario is not likely with Chara or Bergeron.

Chara, 36, has been a dominating and physical player since coming into the NHL as a 20-year-old with the New York Islanders in 1997-98. Chara has used every inch and pound of his 6'9" and 260-pound frame to dole out big hits and play the game with overwhelming effort more than most of his competitor.

As a result, he seems certain to start slowing down. He struggled against the quickness and decisiveness of the Blackhawks in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final and there's no logical reason to think he's not going to have a similar experience this season.

Chara may keep himself in top condition, but he can't escape the aging process and he may no longer dominate the way he has in the past.

Bergeron, 28, has been playing for the Bruins since he was an 18-year-old in 2003-04. Bergeron suffered a brutal concussion early in the 2007-08 season, and has taken several other hard hits to the head in the ensuing years.

Bergeron also suffered brutal injuries in last year's Stanley Cup Final, including a broken rib, torn cartilage and muscles and a separated shoulder. He also suffered a punctured lung that may have resulted when he took a pain-killing injection from the Bruins' medical staff.

Bergeron said that he was 95 percent healthy when he arrived at the Canadian Olympic team's orientation camp this week.

Bergeron is certainly young enough to recover from his injuries, but the short offseason and his tendency to take big hits in order to make big plays puts him at risk.

The Bruins also have significant personnel changes as they no longer have right wings Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverly or Jaromir Jagr.

They have brought in Loui Ericksson and Jarome Iginla to take their places, but the changing personnel landscape may lead to a period of adjustment.

Additionally, veteran defenseman Andrew Ference was not retained, and he signed with the Edmonton Oilers. Second-year defenseman Dougie Hamilton will be asked to take a bigger role while playoff hero Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski will battle for the remaining spot.

It will take time to get used to new teammates, and that could manifest itself both in the beginning of the season and in the playoffs.

A third factor that stands in their way is the NHL's new divisional setup. In addition to having to battle traditional rivals like the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, the Detroit Red Wings are now in the Bruins' division (now called the Atlantic).

The Red Wings extended the Blackhawks to seven games in the Western Conference semifinal last spring, and they should be a worthy opponent in 2013-14. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning are also in the Atlantic Division.

No NHL runner-up has managed to win the Stanley Cup since the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Red Wings in seven games.

The Bruins are going to try to match that feat, but the last four teams that were in a position to rebound could not do it.

A very short offseason, a new divisional setup and their own significant roster changes will make it difficult to overcome that trend.

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