The Boston Bruins begin their Stanley Cup defense in earnest Thursday, when they host the Washington Capitals. Although no team has repeated since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98, here are five things that need to happen for the Bruins to repeat:
1. Tim Thomas plays like it's 2011
Tim Thomas carried the Bruins on his shoulders last season to the Stanley Cup win, and the 2011 Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner will need to be the backbone of the Bruins once again. Tuukka Rask missed the final 19 games of the season with a groin injury and is questionable, at best, to be able to come in and carry the load should Thomas falter or get hurt. While Thomas -- along with the rest of the team -- stumbled through February and early March, he returned to form over the last month of the season and appears primed for another postseason run. That's a good sign for the Bruins.
2. Zdeno Chara continues to lead the way
Whether it was fatigue or the midseason doldrums that many players go through, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara struggled for a time before turning things around down the stretch to look more like the perennial Norris Trophy candidate we've grown to know. Chara surpassed his career high in points and not only has been a steady two-way and physical presence again, but is leading as a captain. Many Bruins cited their captain leading by example and speaking up when necessary in the final month-plus as a main reason for the Bruins snapping out of their midseason funk. That will need to be the case in the playoffs for the Bruins to repeat.
3. Forward depth delivers
Bruins winger Nathan Horton missed the last 36 games of the regular season with a concussion, and the Bruins must continue to approach each game as if he will not be playing in the playoffs -- but they have the depth to adjust. While that depth wasn't evident the first month after Horton suffered the concussion on Jan. 22, it was shown brightly as the season wound down, with the Bruins rolling three forward lines capable of scoring. Rich Peverley returned from a knee injury March 25 and has fit in nicely with Milan Lucic and David Krejci; the trio of Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston has found chemistry; and the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin line has been a consistent scoring threat all season. If that balance continues, the Bruins are in very good shape.
4. Championship experience keeps them calm
The experience of winning three Game 7s en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, combined with being tested as the defending champions all season, should have the Bruins ready for the playoff pressure cooker. While they struggled at times with every team gunning for them every night because they were champions, they appeared to have grown stronger mentally as the playoffs approached, as shown in their turnaround down the stretch.
5. Collective leadership fills the Mark Recchi void
The 2011 Bruins admitted that they would miss Mark Recchi's leadership, and sometimes it was obvious they did. But while they also acknowledged that no one can replace what the future Hall of Famer brought, they realized that they must collectively compensate for his absence as the season went on. Veterans Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Andrew Ference have chipped in to do that, and it will be imperative they continue to do so in the Stanley Cup playoffs when challenges present themselves.