Originally Published: September 25, 2013

Boston Bruins: How do you like me now?

By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com


The Boston Bruins have run the gamut of emotions the past four seasons, from one extreme to another, from the highest high and the lowest low.

The perennial contenders lost a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia in 2010, which made it even sweeter when the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years in 2011. A four-game sweep of the highly touted Pittsburgh Penguins in last spring's Eastern Conference finals felt almost as good as a championship, but the soul-crushing manner in which they lost Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals put the Bruins to their knees it hurt so much.

Man, these guys have seen it all.

"You have to learn from all experiences," clutch center Patrice Bergeron told ESPN.com. "We learned against Philly [in 2010] that it's not over until you get that fourth win. That was a tough way to learn that. But by learning that, we had that comeback against Toronto (last spring) by saying it wasn't over until the buzzer in the seventh game. Obviously you want to relive those memories and emotions from 2011. It's about having all these experiences, good or bad, that you become a better team, a better player, a better person."

So what emotional roller coaster do the Bruins have in store for their fans this season?

They're shaping up to be a serious contender once again, even with a few new faces.

For starters, this is a team that's had a bit of a facelift. Some of it was salary cap-related, some of it wasn't.

Gone are forwards Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, Jaromir Jagr, defenseman Andrew Ference and backup goalie Anton Khubodin.

The new faces include forwards Loui Eriksson, Jarome Iginla, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Nick Johnson, as well as backup goalie Chad Johnson.

Eriksson is the front-line addition, an underrated star during his years in Dallas who now gets to shine in a bigger hockey market. And he's exactly the type of player head coach Claude Julien loves: a dependable, 200-foot guy who excels at both ends of the ice.

"From what I've seen and heard from other players, I think he's a great player and I think he's going to fit perfectly on our team," Bergeron said.

The bigger name, although he's more in the twilight of his career, is Iginla.

The irony, of course, is that Iggy spurned the Bruins for the Penguins at last season's trade deadline and then saw his Pittsburgh team swept out by those same Bruins.

Bergeron insists it won't be awkward or strange at all now for the Bruins players to have Iginla on board after he signed a free-agent deal July 5.

"I don't think so," Bergeron said. "Just by the way that he is. He's a great person. Can you really blame a guy that has that luxury to choose where he wants to go? At that time we weren't doing great, we were struggling a little bit. He had a chance to go to Pittsburgh where you have Crosby and Malkin. I really respect his decision. And now I respect the fact that he's mature enough and humble enough to come back [to Boston]. It speaks highly of the person he is."

It starts with the GM and the coach. GM Peter Chiarelli, armed with a new contract, has been able to make the pieces work smoothly in the salary cap era. Few GMs have navigated the cap system better than him. He remains underrated in his own market, in my mind, for the impact that he's had on the fortunes of this franchise over the past half decade. Julien is one of the best in the league, Team Canada suggesting as much by naming him to Mike Babcock's staff for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Under Julien, the Bruins play perhaps the most balanced two-way game in the NHL, with enough sandpaper to intimidate a few teams. The Bruins are always prepared and rarely ever outmaneuvered behind the bench. The 1-2 punch at center of David Krejci and Bergeron is among the elite duos in the league. The blue line remains a steady rock under the guidance of perennial Norris contender Zdeno Chara. And goalie Tuukka Rask erased any memory of Tim Thomas last season with a standout year, which already has opposing players ranking him among the league's top netminders.

While I love Ericksson as a player, overall I don't believe the Bruins are as deep up front as a season ago. While you may easily live with the Eriksson-for-Seguin swap, I don't think Iginla has enough juice left to measure up to what Horton was for the Bruins on that top line with Krecji and Milan Lucic. Mind you, I wouldn't put it past Iginla to make me eat my words. He's a proud competitor. Additionally, the loss of Peverley doesn't get talked about much, but he's an underrated bottom-six forward whom I believe the Bruins will miss more than people realize. Another weakness last season was the power play, which ranked 26th in the NHL.

None really for the Bruins, who welcome Detroit, Florida and Tampa to their new division. Yes, the Red Wings present a formidable new foe in the Atlantic Division, but there are points to be had versus the two Florida teams, particularly the Panthers. The old Northeast Division was already a tough one and remains so under the new Atlantic banner.

LeBrun: My guess is the Bruins probably win the Atlantic Division but, just for kicks, I'm giving that title to a surprise team. I'll put the Bruins second.

Burnside: First in Atlantic Division.

Custance: Third in Atlantic Division.

Melrose: First in Atlantic Division.

Strang: First in Atlantic Division.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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