The Boston Bruins have all the pieces in place to do something that has not been done since 1998—repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
The have one of the best goalies in the world in Tim Thomas, the same man who led them to an unlikely championship last year.
They have fantastic depth, balance and explosiveness. Four players, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Chris Kelly and David Krejci, all had career years as far as goals scored. Six players scored 20 goals or more this season.
Then there is the defense, anchored by the immovable force that is Zdeno Chara.
Indeed, the Bruins have all the elements necessary to make history and bring another Cup to Boston—right?
And I'll tell you why.
First though a disclaimer, and an admission, to all the Bruins' fans who will no doubt tear into me if they decide to read this: I am a diehard Capitals fan and have been one since the '80s.
But, I am not writing this to bash my teams first round opponent. Here at B/R, I have already written a couple of articles previewing the Capitals vs. Bruins series, admittedly more from a Capitals perspective.
In doing my research for those articles though, I learned a great deal about the B's. I also developed a ton of respect for them.
The Bruins have more than enough to take out my Capitals and they should win that series. But, in researching the Bruins, I noticed some chinks in the armor and some other factors that I believe will eventually lead to the crowning of a new champion in 2012.
First, and as noted previously, history is not on their side. It has been said by many that the hardest trophy to win, in all of sports, is the Stanley Cup. Ask any Caps fan and they will confirm this. But winning the Cup twice in a row—now that's impressive.
In the modern NHL, winning the Cup back-to-back is even more difficult. Gone are the days when dynasties like the Canadiens from the 70's, or the Islanders and Oilers from the 80's, could rattle off multiple championships.
That was back before the salary cap existed though. In hockey, as in many other sports, the salary cap created parity and leveled the playing field. That is one of the main reasons there has been no repeat champion since 1998. Building an NHL dynasty is now more difficult than ever.
So, the odds against a Bruins repeat are low based on the laws of probability before the first puck is dropped.
But, I am sure there is a guy in a Bruins jersey out there right now channeling Han Solo, saying, "Never tell me the odds."
So, lets move on to the other factors that stack the odds against the B's this post-season. And let's start with the man who put the Bruins on his shoulders last year and brought the Cup back to Boston—Tim Thomas.
Tim Thomas is still one of the best goalies in the world, but his numbers are down a bit this year. From the Bruins' website, you can see this. He has more losses than last year. He has four fewer shutouts and has given up 20 more goals than he did a year ago. His save percentage is down slightly; his goals against average is up slightly.
So, can Tim Thomas be had? Perhaps.
But, he and the Bruins were playing their best hockey of the season down the stretch. Whether that translates to playoff success remains to be seen. From just looking at the numbers though, it looks like Thomas might be more vulnerable than he was last season.
There are also some pieces missing from the scrappy team of a year ago. Mark Recchi retired and took all that veteran leadership with him.
Perhaps an even bigger missing piece from last year is Nathan Horton. Horton scored the game winner in Games 5 and 7 against Montreal and also tallied the series clinching goal against Tampa Bay. Out of the lineup since January with another concussion, his return to the lineup for the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been called a "long shot" by Bruins' general manager Peter Chiarelli.
Who then will step up a be this year's clutch player? The Bruins have to find someone if a repeat is going to happen.
And it is not just Horton who has had injury problems this season. Defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid are listed as day to day as the series with the Capitals begins. If these two are not at 100 percent, or at least very close to that, the series with the Caps could be closer than Bruins' fans will enjoy.
And as the playoffs go on, in general, players do not get healthier. If the Bruins have to dig deeper into their bench for a defenseman, they may not like what they find. Joe Corvo was not exactly the model of consistency for Boston this season.
Yet another factor weighing against a repeat is that the Bruins might not be as lucky the second time around. Bruins' fans might not want to admit it, but they know the truth: The B's were very lucky last season.
How many pucks bounced their way? Will they have the same fortune this time?
How many times can they drop the first two games in a series and come back to win this time around?
How many Game 7s can the Bruins, or their heroic fans, withstand this time around?
So many times during last season's magical run, the Bruins season teetered on the brink, only to work out perfectly in the end. If they are faced with similar circumstances this time, their luck may, and probably will, run out.
And, finally, there is the fact that the Eastern Conference is absolutely loaded with good, perhaps even great, teams. And all of them are gunning to knock out the champs.
It starts from the word "go" as the B's tangle with the Capitals, who took three of four from Boston in the regular season, as opposed to the Senators, whom the Bruins manhandled by taking five of six. True, I may be a bit biased, but even Bruins fans admit that the Caps pose a much bigger challenge than the Senators would have.
But, let's say the Bruins get past the Capitals. While the Bruins owned the Devils, taking all four meetings with them this year, and were equally successful against the Flyers by winning three of the four games between the two teams, the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference pose a more formidable challenge.
The Bruins dropped three of four to the Penguins, who were without Sidney Crosby for most of those games. They also dropped three of four to the top seeded Rangers. Even the Panthers held their own against Boston as the two teams split the season series.
At some point in this playoff run, the Bruins will probably have to take on one of these teams and when that happens they will have to figure out a way to be more successful, with everything on the line, then they were in the regular season.
This could be a big problem against the Penguins who are the one team that really appears to be able to match the Bruins depth. When you have Sidney Crosby on the second line—yes, that's what I call depth.
So, can the Bruins repeat as Stanley Cup Champions? They certainly have the talent, experience and ability to do something that has not been done in fourteen years.
But, to do so, they will have to overcome a lot. They will have to stay healthy. Tim Thomas will have to be as good as, if not better than, he was last season.
They will have to catch a lot of breaks again and will have to navigate through the gauntlet of the Eastern Conference bracket, which looks to be as nasty a meat-grinder as might be possible.
All of this adds up to stack the odds against Boston repeating as Stanley Cup Champions this year.
Go with the odds.