BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins enter the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs as the favorites to win it all.
This spring, the Bruins are bigger, better, stronger and hungrier. Their experience and maturity make them a dangerous team, a team better prepared than the two previous ones that reached the finals.
"Every team is different," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. "It's tough to top a team that you win with, but we definitely have a great team in here. A lot of great talent and we're very deep this year, and I think that's what makes a great team. Hopefully we can put it all together in the playoffs."
Boston is a better all-around team than it was in 2011 and 2013. Start with its top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla. That trio was consistent the entire season. It's also no coincidence that Krejci, who had a team-leading 69 points, and Lucic (59 points) produced career years with Iginla as their linemate.
Patrice Bergeron also had his best season (not that he's ever had a bad one) and recorded 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. He should win the Selke Trophy.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask is a top candidate for the Vezina Trophy. He finished with a 36-15-6 record, 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 58 games. He also led the league with seven shutouts.
The Bruins' power play is the best it's been in years. The penalty kill is strong as usual. Despite injuries to key players Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, less-experienced players have stepped up and been solid, including Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller.
Then there's the ever-present energy line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. So, when Bruins coach Claude Julien looks down his roster, he sees consistency and talent -- and a team that, as a whole, is better than the two previous ones that reached the finals, and probably the best in franchise history.
Sure, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs that could derail Boston's chances of a deep run, but that's where experience comes into play.
Led by captain Zdeno Chara and assistant captains Bergeron, Krejci and Kelly, the current roster is stocked with players who know how to handle pressure.
The group that won in 2011 was special. It was a mix of veteran leaders and young talent. During that summer of celebration, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli & Co. knew they had created the blueprint of a perennial Stanley Cup contender. Unlike many other Cup-winning teams, Chiarelli made it a goal to keep the core group intact.
Chiarelli has managed the salary cap well, made significant trades and signed important free agents. It's all equaled success in Boston.
As the team began to prepare for their first-round opponent, the Detroit Red Wings, with practice Tuesday at TD Garden, there was a calm within Boston's locker room. The players understand exactly what it takes and how to properly prepare for a long run toward Lord Stanley's Cup.
"When they are calm, it doesn't mean they're not necessarily excited and it doesn't mean they're not intense about the whole situation," Julien said after practice. "I think they're just [dealing] with the whole hoopla before the first puck drops in a more calm manner. And to me, it's just one of those things that with time -- this is seven years for a lot of these guys in a row so you get that experience but you also take the lessons that you had along the way, how some of the series have been tough and how you've had to climb back in to them because of a certain situation. So you hope that all that experience is also going to pay dividends for them."
That experience will bode well.
"If they were coming in to the playoffs for the first time, it might dominate their mind all day like 'What's it going to be like?' These players know what they have to do, they know that you have to have a good practice tomorrow, a good practice the next day, have some rest, eat properly. All that stuff is in place, so it's all about experience," Chiarelli said. "Obviously, they have to get it done and they have gotten it done before, but it's about experience and knowing what to expect and knowing that there are going to be ups and downs throughout the way and to get through it on an even keel."
In 2011, Boston went on a historic run and proved the naysayers wrong en route to a championship. The performance of then-goalie Tim Thomas was one of the reasons the Bruins won, but the entire team contributed in some aspect.
The Bruins erased a 0-2 deficit to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round and eventually won that series in seven games. Boston then swept the Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals before beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in a classic Eastern Conference final.
The Stanley Cup final against the Canucks was epic. Again, Boston lost the first two games of the series, but the Bruins played extremely well. The home team won Games 3 through 6 before the Bruins finally beat the Canucks in Game 7 on June 15 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
"We were the clear underdogs the year we won, and going against Vancouver, everyone thought they would win in four or five games and we ended up winning," Marchand said. "That just speaks volumes how you can't take any team for granted. Los Angeles finished eighth and they won [in 2012], so it doesn't really matter where you place in the standings. We're all at square one here, so we have to make sure we don't take anything lightly."
No doubt the Bruins still have last year's finals loss to the Blackhawks in their minds. That run started with a historic Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals. Boston trailed by two goals with 90 seconds remaining in regulation and scored twice in a span of 31 seconds to tie the game before winning in overtime. That victory set the tone for the rest of the playoffs with series wins over the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. In the finals, the teams were evenly matched, but in the end, Chicago prevailed.
Boston knows that besides talent, there's luck involved in winning the Cup.
"A lot of people underestimate luck in the playoffs," Marchand said. "You have to get a bounce. You have to get the right calls at the right times. You've got to have guys stepping up and everything has to come together to win a Cup. Everything has to fall in line, fall in place and that's what makes playoffs so tough."
During the 2013-14 regular season, the Bruins never lost more than two games in a row. They won the Presidents' Trophy for the league's best record with 117 points. This team is not cocky. The Bruins are calm and confident. They're in control. They've also learned in the past to never take any team for granted, and that includes the Red Wings.
What the Bruins have accomplished in the past is the last thing any player in the locker room wants to talk about. It doesn't matter what they did four years ago, last spring or this season. It's all about what is ahead of them, and that should be another Stanley Cup championship.
This Bruins team has all the ability to accomplish that goal.
"Every playoff is different and you really can't be comparing 2011 or last year," Chara said. "We're just really trying to focus on taking one game at a time. We can't be looking too far ahead because we haven't even started yet. The focus is really our first game and get off to the right start."