2011-12 Boston Bruins Preview

Published September 28, 2011

| Sports Network

It took just one year for the Boston Bruins to put the biggest collapse in NHL playoff history behind them, as they claimed the franchise's first Stanley Cup title since 1972.

In 2010, the Bruins blew a 3-0 series' lead en route to losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals to Philadelphia, becoming just the third team in league history to suffer such a collapse. Last spring, however, Boston won a record three Game 7s, including a victory in Vancouver on June 15 to end the club's 39-year championship drought.

The task this year for head coach Claude Julien and company is to do what no other Bruins team has ever done -- win back-to-back championships.

Boston owes much of the credit for last year's title to goaltender Tim Thomas, who won the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies in 2010-11. At 37, it's uncertain how many playoff runs Thomas has left in him, but after last year it would seem that he still has plenty left in the tank.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was quiet this offseason, so the B's will have largely the same cast back to try and defend their title.

FORWARDS - The Bruins are known more for defense than scoring, but Boston did manage to finish fifth in the league with 244 goals last season after placing last in that category in 2009-10.

Boston's top offensive weapon is winger Milan Lucic, a power forward who led the club with 30 goals in 2010-11 and tied David Krejci for the team lead with 62 points. It was easily the best NHL season for the 23-year-old Lucic, who has two years left on a contract extension he signed during the 2009-10 campaign.

Lucic plays the role of Boston's go-to scorer, a function that Marc Savard served before concussions wreaked havoc on his career. Savard, who is under contract with Boston through 2016-17, hasn't played since last January and has already been ruled out for this season. In fact, many folks, including Chiarelli, have hinted that Savard's playing career is over.

Without Savard, Krejci assumes the role of Boston's top centerman. Like Savard, Krejci is a tremendous playmaker and he led the Bruins with 49 assists in 2010-11. Krejci also had the best offensive numbers for the B's during the Cup run, pacing the team in goals (12) and points (23).

Right wing Nathan Horton joins Krejci and Lucic to complete Boston's solid top line. Horton had 26 goals and 53 points in his first season with the Bruins and had a strong playoffs with eight goals and nine helpers.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston's No. 2 centerman, is a fine offensive player and one of the best defensive forwards in the league. His 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) last season are the most he's had since posting back-to-back 70-point seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Bergeron's 80 games was also his highest total since skating in 81 contests in 2005-06.

Brad Marchand will try build off a strong rookie season after notching 21 goals and 20 assists in 77 games. Marchand really impressed in the postseason, scoring 11 goals to help Boston reach the mountain top.

Boston hopes Tyler Seguin can take a big step forward this season. The second overall pick of the 2010 draft had just 22 points (11g, 11a) in 74 games as a rookie. However, he had flashes of greatness in the playoffs, recording three goals and four assists in 13 postseason tilts. With Mark Recchi's retirement and Michael Ryder's departure to Dallas, more ice time is expected for the 19- year-old Seguin this year.

After the top-six forwards, the Bruins will expect complimentary scoring from guys like Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell.

Benoit Pouliot was the only significant offseason acquisition on offense for the Bruins. Pouliot played the last two years in Montreal and had 30 points (13g, 17a) and 87 penalty minutes in 79 games with the Habs last year.

DEFENSE - The Bruins defense is unquestionably led by the mammoth Zdeno Chara, who possesses possibly the most impressive combination of size and skill in the history of the sport.

Listed at 6-foot-9, Chara's reach and his 255-pound frame help make scoring against Boston such a difficult task. Thanks in large part to Chara, the Bruins had the second-best defense in the 2010-11 regular season and they allowed a league-best average of 2.12 goals per game during the run to the Cup.

Chara, who won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman in 2008-09 and was a finalist for the award last year, also has the hardest slapshot in the world and scored 14 goals in 81 games last season.

Despite Chara's howitzer from the point, the Bruins struggled all last year on the power play. They had a success rate just over 16-percent during the regular season and that number dropped to 11.4-percent in the playoffs.

The Bruins added offensive defenseman Tomas Kaberle before last year's trade deadline in an attempt to spark the power play, but that failed to do the trick. Chiarelli hopes that the offseason trade for Joe Corvo will be a better fit for the struggling unit.

Corvo is a solid offensive blueliner who recorded 11 goals and 40 points in 82 games for the Hurricanes last season.

Dennis Seidenberg is expected to be partnered with Chara again after experiencing a career year. Seidenberg, 30, set personal bests in goals (7), points (32) and games played (81) and tied a career mark with 25 assists.

Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference made up the second pairing on most nights last year. Boychuk was third among Boston defensemen with 16 points, while Ference was one point behind.

The Bruins are still high on 24-year-old Adam McQuaid, who had 15 points in 67 games as a rookie in 2010-11 and figures to round out the top-six.

GOALTENDING - Thomas has won the Vezina Trophy in two of the last three seasons and is coming off one of the best statistical seasons in NHL history.

Thomas set an NHL record with a .938 save percentage over 57 games during the 2010-11 regular season and that number actually increased to .940 in 25 playoff games. After going 35-11-7 with a 2.00 goals-against average during the regular season, Thomas was 16-9 with a 1.98 GAA in the postseason to become the oldest player ever to win the Conn Smythe.

The best news for Boston was that Thomas was not hampered by hip issues, which caused him to take a back seat to Tuukka Rask in 2009-10.

Rask, who began last season as the team's No. 1 goaltender before Thomas regained that role, is just 24 years old and he still projects as Boston's No. 1 netminder of the future.

Rask wound up starting 29 games in 2010-11 and was 11-14-2 with a 2.67 GAA and .918 save percentage. He fared much better in 2009-10 when he went 22-12-5 with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage.

With Thomas getting up there in the age department, expect Rask to garner at least as many starts as he did last year.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - It's been 13 years since an NHL team last won consecutive championships (Detroit Red Wings - 1997-1998) and it would be surprising if Boston was the club to break that streak. The Bruins rode Thomas to last spring's title and one wonders how much longer Thomas can continue his crease domination. After all, he'll be 38 years of age by the time the next postseason gets underway. That being said, the Bruins have an excellent chance at winning the Northeast Division, but claiming a second straight Cup is another matter altogether.

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