2011 NHL Playoffs: Boston Bruins: Top Five Players in Their Quest for the Cup

Shawn Hutcheon@@ShawnHutcheonContributor IIMay 31, 2011

2011 NHL Playoffs: Boston Bruins: Top Five Players in Their Quest for the Cup

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    The Boston Bruins with the 2011 Prince of Wales Trophy
    The Boston Bruins with the 2011 Prince of Wales TrophyElsa/Getty Images

    The Boston Bruins are the National Hockey League's 2011 Eastern Conference Champions. They will take on the Western Conference Champion Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Finals which begin on Wednesday June 1, 2011.

    The Bruins have made it to this point by playing as a team. Captain Zdeno Chara wanted the world to know this team became Eastern Conference Champions by believing in, and trusting one another. That is why he had the team surround him and the Prince of Wales trophy after it was presented to him. Of course, he continued the tradition of not touching the trophy and opted for a team picture with it. None of the Bruins touched the trophy. Like Chara, the only trophy they want to touch is the Stanley Cup.

    While it is true Boston won the east as a team, it is also true that, like any team that makes it to the championship round of their respective sport, there were players who raised their games to a higher level. A new level that will give their teammates the opportunity to follow their lead and win the Stanley Cup. 

    Those players who have been the best of the best for the Boston Bruins are forwards, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, and goaltender Tim Thomas.

    On the following pages, you will learn how they rose to the test that is Stanley Cup playoff hockey.   

David Krejci: Crafting a Post Season to Remember

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    David Krejci is tied for the league lead in goals entering the Stanley Cup Finals.
    David Krejci is tied for the league lead in goals entering the Stanley Cup Finals.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    When David Krejci was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the second round (63rd overall selection) of the 2004 draft, Bruins fans asked one question, "Who?" Since that day, Krejci has answered that question and then some.

    Krejci, a native of Sternberk, Czech Republic was known among scouts as a strong skating, smooth puck handling, play making center. He had the reputation as a player who could set up teammates to score big goals. 

    Since joining the Boston Bruins in 2006-2007, Krejci has scored 58 goals and 156 assists for 214 points in 298 career games.

    In the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Krejci has added a dimension to his many talents, that of goal scorer. Entering the Stanley Cup Finals, he is tied for the league lead in goal scoring with Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis. Each have scored 10 goals in the post season.

    The 25-year-old forward started out slowly. He scored one goal in the Eastern Conference Quarter Final against Montreal.

    Krejci bust out of his scoring slump in the first game of the Eastern Conference Semi Final by scoring two goals and two assists against Philadelphia. The Bruins would go on to sweep the Flyers. Krejci would finish the series with four goals and five assists for nine points. He clearly put his club on his back and made sure the memories of the 2010 playoff collapse were erased from everyone's mind.

    In the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay, Krejci would score five more times, including a hat trick in Game 6. He also added two assists for seven points in seven games.

    The pivot's 17 total points in the playoffs places him fifth overall in NHL playoff scoring.

    Krejci is not only focusing on the offensive side of the game as he carries a plus-5 rating going into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

    In the face off circle, Krejci has won 51.7 percent of his face offs.

    There is no doubt, hockey fans throughout the NHL know who David Krejci is. Many are now mentioning his name as a favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff Most Valuable Player. 

Nathan Horton: Fulfilling Potential and More

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    Nathan Horton has gone from hockey purgatory in Florida to hockey nirvana in Boston
    Nathan Horton has gone from hockey purgatory in Florida to hockey nirvana in BostonPaul Bereswill/Getty Images

    In the summer of 2010, Nathan Horton was contemplating retirement. He had given everything he had to the Florida Panthers since the day they drafted him in the first round (3rd selection overall) of the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft and he needed a change of venue or he would hang up his skates.

    Horton had spent six seasons with the Panthers. He had scored 142 goals and 153 assists totaling 295 points in 422 games. 

    He was often criticized in south Florida for lack of effort but the reality was that he played on some of the weakest teams in the NHL. The Panther organization expected Horton to take the team to the "promised land" but they never gave him a supporting cast good enough to qualify for the playoffs let alone win a Stanley Cup.

    Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli traded for Horton and Gregory Campbell on June 22, 2010 in what may be the best move Chiarelli has made since taking the reigns of the organization in May 2006.

    The Welland, Ontario, Canada native finished the season fourth is team scoring with 26 goals and 27 assists for 53 points. He had made a solid contribution to the Bruins getting into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and for the first time in his career, Nathan Horton would experience the playoff hockey.

    In the team's opening series against Montreal, Horton scored three goals, including the series winner in overtime of Game 7.

    In the Eastern Conference Semi Final against Philadelphia, the 26-year-old winger, accounted for two goals and five assists in the four game sweep over the Flyers.

    Next up were the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals. All Horton did was score three more goals and assisted on four others. Up to this point in his career, Horton scored the biggest goal of his career in Boston's 1-0 victory over the Lightning in Game 7. That goal propelled the Bruins into the Stanley Cup Finals. 

    That goal was Horton's eighth of the playoffs. Three of those goals have been game winners. He also has nine assists. His 17 points places Horton in fifth place in playoff scoring.

    Horton is doing the job defensively. He has a plus-10 rating, which ranks him second in the NHL in that category. 

    Going into the Finals, the Bruins have not lost a playoff game in which Horton has scored a goal.

    It may be safe to assume, Nathan Horton is happy he did not retire from hockey last summer. 

Patrice Bergeron: Leading by Example

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    Patrice Bergeron has done it all for Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs
    Patrice Bergeron has done it all for Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup PlayoffsRichard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Without a doubt, Patrice Bergeron has been Boston's most consistent player throughout, both, the regular season and the playoffs.

    Bergeron finished the 2010-2011 regular season as the team's third leading scorer with 22 goals and 35 assists totaling 57 points but his impact was not thoroughly appreciated until the post season began. The 2010 Canadian Olympian posted two goals and five assists for seven points in the opening seven game series against Montreal. In the plus/minus column, Bergeron was a plus-5.

    In the second round against Philadelphia, the center from Ancienne-Lorrette, Quebec continued his leadership in the scoring column compiling five assists. In the face off circle, he dominated Flyers centers by winning 71.4 percent of his face offs. His defense continued to be stellar as he was a plus-2 against Broad Street Bullies.

    Unfortunately, with only minutes remaining, in the fourth and final game against Philadelphia, Bergeron suffered a mild concussion and was forced to miss the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the speedy Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Fans voiced concern that without it's inspirational leader, Boston may not advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins split Games 1 and 2 in Boston. Bergeron returned for Game 3. He did not figure in the scoring as the Bruins won 2-0 but he was a calming influence on the ice and in the dressing room. For the remainder of the series, which lasted seven games, the 25-year-old forward scored two goals and one assist. He was instrumental in the Bruins moving past the Lightning as he saw no less than 18:11 of ice time per game. His face off prowess shown brightly as he won 55 percent, or more, of his draws in four of the five games he played.

    Statistically, Patrice Bergeron has had a good playoff run with four goals and 11 assists. His 15 points position him as the 11th leading playoff scorer. The plus-9 rating he carries into the Finals sees him in fifth place. The most impressive statistic Bergeron brings to the Finals is his 62.3 percent success rate on face offs. No other center on either team has won more than 55 percent of their face offs. A center who wins the majority of his face offs, gives his team possession of the puck and the team that maintains possession gets more chances to score goals.

    Patrice Bergeron's consistent play has made him a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.         

Dennis Seidenberg: Number Forty-Four in Your Program, Number One in Ice Time

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    Dennis Seidenberg leads all NHL players in ice time in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs
    Dennis Seidenberg leads all NHL players in ice time in the 2011 Stanley Cup PlayoffsBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Since entering the National Hockey League in 2002 with the Philadelphia Flyers, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has also played for the Phoenix Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, and of course, the Boston Bruins. He was dealt to the Bruins by the Panthers March 3, 2010. 

    Seidenberg has gone from journeyman defender with some average NHL teams to number one defenseman on the 2011 Eastern Conference Champion.

    The 29-year-old blue liner has amassed a total of 510:48 in playoff ice time ranking him number one among all NHL playoff performers.  

    Seidenberg began the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the second pair of defensemen for Boston. After falling behind Montreal 2 games to 0, the Bruins brain trust got together and decided to change things on the back line by pairing Seidenberg with Captain Zdeno Chara. They also decided to increase their ice time.

    "And really, they've blossomed and allowed the other D to settle more comfortably into their roles." Said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli in an interview with the Boston Globe.

    Perhaps more than any other defenseman on the club, Seidenberg has blossomed into the team's most reliable rearguard, whom the coaching staff uses in all situations. The native of Schwenningen, Germany has found himself playing his regular shift along with the power play and the penalty kill. 

    Seidenberg has contributed in Boston qualifying for the Stanley Cup Finals by scoring one goal and seven assists for eight points. He has fulfilled the expectation of shutting down the top lines of the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning while compiling a plus-8.

    Dennis Seidenberg has, arguably, been Boston's best defenseman in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His days of being known as a journeyman have ended. The journey has reached it's destination, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Tim Thomas: What a Difference a Year Makes for Boston's Top Playoff Performer

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    By getting to the Stanley Cup Finals, Tim Thomas is living the dream.
    By getting to the Stanley Cup Finals, Tim Thomas is living the dream.Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    For Boston goaltender Tim Thomas, the 2010-2011 season, followed by the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, has been the stuff that dreams are made of. 

    One year ago, in the 2010 playoffs, Thomas was sitting on the bench serving as Tuukka Rask's back up, watching the proceedings unfold before him. Thomas, at that time, was the defending Vezina Trophy winner but his 2009-2010 season did not go as planned and Thomas was relegated to the bench. It was thought that the University of Vermont alum had seen his better days as an NHL goaltender. After the playoffs concluded for Boston, fans began calling for Thomas to be on the next plane, train, bus, or any other mode of transportation, out of Beantown. He had fallen into disfavor but only he, his teammates and the organization knew the reason behind Thomas' fall from grace, as it were.

    In the summer of 2010, Thomas had surgery for a badly injured labrum in his hip. An affliction that is becoming common in butterfly style goaltenders. The constant dropping down with their knees almost touching one another produces increased wear and tear on the hip joint and the muscles surrounding the joint. Many goaltenders end up needing surgery at some point in their careers for the injury. Most are able to resume their playing careers while some cannot. Thomas was one of the lucky ones, so to speak and when training camp opened in September, 2010, he looked like a new man in goal. He was quicker, more aggressive in challenging the shooters and appeared more confident. The surgery and the resulting new found confidence paid off as he was named the starting goaltender for the 2010-2011 season. He has not looked back.

    After setting a new NHL record for lowest goals against average for one season, Thomas was named a finalist for the 2011 Vezina Trophy. He has continued his Cinderella season with the playoff run of his life.

    After three rounds and 18 total playoff games played, Thomas is the only netminder not to be pulled from a playoff game this season. He leads the NHL in playoff games played (18), wins (12), shots against (603), saves (560), shut outs (2), and minutes played (1,125). The Flint, Michigan native is second in the NHL in losses (6), goals against (43) and save percentage (.929).

    It has been a long road, one which has included stops in Birmingham Alabama, Helsinki Finland, Hamilton Ontario, Houston Texas, Detroit Michigan, Solna Sweden, Karpat Finland, Jokerit Finland, and Providence, Rhode Island but that road has finally led Tim Thomas to the Stanley Cup Finals as Boston's top playoff performer and the odds on favorite to be named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, proving that dreams do really come true.