Last season ended in heartbreak for the Boston Bruins. A 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Philadelphia Flyers quickly became 3-3. Then in Game 7 at home at the TD Garden a 3-0 first period lead became a crushing 4-3 defeat.
The B's were only the third team in NHL history—and fourth across the NHL, NBA and MLB—to win the first three games of a playoff series, and go on to lose the next four.
It was the latest in a string of bad postseason losses for Boston. Each of the last three seasons has ended in a Game 7 loss—to the Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes and the Flyers respectively.
The last time the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final was 1990. The last time they won it was 1972.
The team has been good in recent years, but they have always fallen short. They are off to a 7-3-1 start this season and generally have played well. Well enough, perhaps, that they could make a run at ending their championship drought. It's something worth considering anyway.
The B's have been the best in the NHL on the penalty kill in 2010. This is in no small part due to the heroic efforts of Dennis Seidenberg.
Most shots on goal by the other team are blocked or saved. If it's blocked, you can be pretty confident it was Seidenberg who threw himself at the puck.
On the other side there is the captain Zdeno Chara, who is proving to everyone exactly why he landed such a big contract extension in the offseason. When he is on the ice there is an air of calm at the back. He leads as a captain and very much deserves to wear that "C" on his chest.
Boston have killed 92.9% of all penalties, good for first in the league. On the power play, they are ninth in the NHL, finding the net 21.4% of the time.
The penalty kill is largely due to the defense and perhaps the threat of a breakaway shorthanded goal posed by Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic.
As for the power play, that's due to the rejuvenated B's offense. Seguin, Lucic and Nathan Horton are all legitimate scoring threats. Coach Claude Julien has tinkered with the lines quite often this season, but it has always worked out well.
Led by Horton and Lucic, the 2010 Bruins have managed what last year's B's could not: score.
Boston has averaged 3 goals per game, which ranks tenth in the NHL. Compare that to last year when they were dead last, managing just 2.39 goals a night.
Horton is a big part of that. He has settled quickly after an offseason trade from the Florida Panthers, and leads the Bruins in goals with six, and points with 11. The Bruins do not really have a star goal scorer (no Bruins player ranks in the top 20 in the league), but as a team they have found a way to rack up the goals.
If you play the Bruins and try to play the puck through the neutral zone, you are going to get killed. It has been very hard to get between the Bruins lines so far this year. Julien's defense has worked wonders, forcing opposing teams to work their way down the ice and fight for every inch. Then, when a team reaches Boston's defensive zone, they are faced with Tim Thomas.
He was the first Boston goaltender to win his first seven starts, but even with his poorest performance of the year in his last start against Washington, he's still arguably the best goalie in the league. One could make a case for St. Louis' Jaroslav Halak, but it is hard to argue with a 1.05 goals against average.
Even when Thomas does not play—or his hot streak ends—the Bruins have Tuukka Rask. He has definitely been the number two goalie this year, but is still very good and would be a number one on a few teams.
Marc Savard, Marco Sturm, Johnny Boychuck.
Three of the best players on the team—all are injured. Boston has been great without them. When they get back (late November or early December at the earliest), this team could truly be a force in the Eastern Conference.