B's turnaround a season-long process

VANCOUVER -- Picture the Boston Bruins at a team-bonding camp in the Vermont hills this past fall. Think of the image of players trying to work through the psychological demons of a stunning playoff loss from the spring before.

There would be no elephant in the room this season. The Bruins decided they would deal with it head on. And right away.

"It was the only way to approach it at the time," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We did take a lot of care and planning in setting up the training camp. The way last year ended wasn't very fun and we knew it would have an impact on the team and we had to address it in the right way."

On the opening day of camp, Chiarelli addressed the players. He wanted to make it clear they would not just brush off what transpired last postseason, when the Bruins coughed up a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia and became only the third NHL team in history to lose in that fashion.

"I had to send a strong message and let them know that this was going to be the way we approach things," Chiarelli said of his camp address. "It wasn't the usual, 'Welcome to camp and we're going to work hard.' It was about how the season ended last year and how we were going to approach this season. I wanted to make sure it was in our players' minds that we were not going to avoid it; we were going to build on it and it would make us stronger."

So there they were in Vermont before they headed to Europe to begin the season, Bruins players and coaches involved in physical and mental exercises.

"I know it's a common thing that teams do, but we paid a lot of attention to it because we really felt it was important for the psyche of team," said the Bruins' GM. "Picture our team up on the hill. There's all these elevated rope courses where the guys would have to partner up, and there's an element of trust built into it. Then there was a tent on the hill where the guys would go through mental exercises and discussion exercises. It was team-building stuff, but it was amped up."

Some teams may have taken a different tact, preferring instead to not dwell on the past and mostly ignore the nightmare; but the Bruins went the other way, and you can't argue with the results.

"We really had to drive this stuff home," Chiarelli said. "It's one thing to say you're going to turn the page and build on it. But we really wanted to make sure that happened. Not so much turn the page as much as face it and build on it."

This is a battle-tested squad that came back from losing the opening two games at home in the first round to beat the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. This week, the Bruins have come back from 2-0 down against the Vancouver Canucks in dramatic fashion with a 12-1 combined whooping of the Canucks in Games 3 and 4 in Beantown.

There weren't a whole lot of people who believed the Bruins had that in them after leaving Vancouver down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup finals, but it is yet another example of the psychological journey the Bruins have endured.

"It's a cumulative learning experience," Bruins star goalie Tim Thomas said Thursday after his team arrived from Boston. "When you have a team that's fortunate enough to have a good chunk of its base together for a few years and you're able to learn these lessons as you go along, that helps.

"The lessons we've learned don't just come from the Philly series," he added. "They come from the Carolina series that we lost. They come from regular-season experiences from some of the teams we've played against, like Montreal and such. It's cumulative. So I wouldn't just focus on the Philly series last year."

Chiarelli echoed Thomas' cumulative theory, but let's not kid ourselves -- the impact of blowing a 3-0 series lead is unreal.

"That moment sticks out the most and the experience that maybe proved to be the most valuable, but it's also about the body of work that the guys grow on," said Chiarelli.

The Bruins may or may not win the Stanley Cup over the next week, but no one can argue how far they've come since that heart-breaking Game 7 last spring against the Flyers. That's a credit to a GM that had the right vision for how his team could recover from that gut-wrenching experience and to a group of players that picked themselves off the mat and become better people and athletes for it.

"I think you have to learn from those mistakes, from those lows that you face in life, and also in hockey," Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said Thursday. "It can make you stronger if you make the most of it and take what can help you."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.