The Bruins have a tough act to follow.
Unlike past years, Bruins fans know what the team is capable of. They saw the Bruins ride the best goaltender in the league, the best defensive pairing in the league and one of the deepest offenses in the league to a Stanley Cup victory.
One memorable moment of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run came after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning, which many will remember as one of the best hockey games anyone could ever witness at any level.
The music, with DJ Tuukka Rask in charge, was blasting. Players were celebrating while also holding court with the media. Zdeno Chara, who had never won the Cup, said the following:
“This year it's just -- I had a really good feeling right from the beginning. We were so hungry, we talked about it in training camp that we had some unfinished business from the playoffs in the previous year with Philadelphia.”
Chara said he knew that it was a special season for the Bruins. As it turned out, it was.
Most of the faces are the same. The B’s still have Tim Thomas. They still have the devastating pairing of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. They still have David Krejci, an offensive volcano that erupts annually each postseason, and one of the best two-way forwards in the league in Patrice Bergeron.
So if Chara knew last year’s team was special, what does he know about this one?
“I still feel good about this team. Every year is different, you know,” he said. “You can’t rely on the last year and think OK, this is going to go exactly the same way. It might be totally different. We’ve got to be ready for it, whatever comes our way, and treat it as one game day at a time.”
The Bruins aren’t going to rely on last year, but Bruins fans will when it comes to expectations for the postseason. The B’s will begin the playoffs Thursday against Alexander Ovechkin and the seventh-seeded Capitals.
HORTON SKATING MEANS SOMETHING TO THE BRUINS
The Bruins have not ruled Nathan Horton out for the season, but they’ve also made it clear that the winger is not close to returning from his latest concussion. Given that information, or lack thereof, it’s almost tempting to read between the lines.
Still, the news that Horton, who suffered his most recent concussion in January, has at least returned to skating is an encouraging sign – not because it means he could soon be back, but because after a Marc Savard-like stretch, something is going right for him.
“It’s definitely been great,” linemate and close friend Milan Lucic of Horton skating. “It’s good to see him in the room joking around having some fun again. You know you never want to see a guy out for a long period of time. It’s good to see him making progress and I think the most important thing is his health and having a healthy recovery.”
Horton had a setback when he first tried skating in February, so things are looking up after he responded better to his more recent attempt. The 27-year-old and his wife Tammy also welcomed son Zachary to their family on March 29, so although Horton has been unable to play, there have been encouraging signs everywhere.
That isn’t to say Horton wouldn’t be happy otherwise. The happy-go-lucky Horton is known for an ear-to-ear smile that hasn’t left his face since he was traded to Boston in the 2010 offseason. Horton even joked after the Bruins’ Stanley Cup victory that he was still smiling upon learning the terrible news last June that he would not be able to play again in the finals after suffering a concussion on a hit from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome.
When it comes to Horton’s spirits, the Bruins are glad to see the No. 18 that fit in so well with the team when he arrived a season ago.
“[He] seems the same, especially of late,” Lucic said. “It’s good to see the spirits back up.”
Horton skating may not mean anything for this season, but it means something to the Bruins and his teammates.
EVERYONE HATES THE PENGUINS
Some teams thrive off being hated. They hear other teams and other fans blast them, and it only motivates them more.
As the playoffs begin, Pittsburgh fans should hope the Penguins are one of those teams. The Penguins have been in the news plenty lately, and it hasn't been because people are singing their praises. It’s because they’ve pissed off three teams they might need to beat in order to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
First there was last Sunday's game between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. With the Flyers leading, 6-3, with less than two minutes to play, Penguins forward Joe Vitale injured Philadelphia's Danny Briere on a clean hit, but one that led to a line brawl due to its timing.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant Tony Granato were standing on the ends of their teams' benches during the fracas, screaming at one another. Laviolette was angry that Vitale, Aaron Asham and the rest of the Penguins' checking line was on the ice when the game was seemingly over.
“Those guys hadn’t been out there in 12 minutes,” Laviolette said following the game. “It’s a gutless move by their coach. It’s gutless.”
Laviolette ended up getting fined $10,000 by the league for everything, but it was hardly the last time the Penguins had not-so-nice things said about them.
Mike Milbury ripped Penguins star Sidney Crosby, calling him a "little goody two-shoes" and a "punk" for his actions that eventually led to a cross-check from Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn. He also joked that Crosby was coming back from his "35th concussion."
"He's not the perfect gentleman," Milbury said of Crosby. "He's not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I'd say screw him, hit him."
It seemed that the anti-Penguins talk would finally simmer down (at least until the playoffs started against the Flyers) at some point this week, but the Penguins ruffled feathers both Tuesday against the Bruins and Thursday against the Rangers.
With the Penguins on a power play, Kris Letang snapped his head back to buy a high-sticking call against Rich Peverley, resulting in a 5-on-3 that gave Pittsburgh two goals. Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference called such play "embarrassing" on Dennis & Callahan Friday.
On Thursday, a knee-to-knee hit from Brooks Orpik on Rangers forward Derek Stepan led to perhaps this season's finest postgame rant from New York coach John Tortorella. The targets of the rant? The Penguins, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“It’s a cheap, dirty hit,” Tortorella said. “I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there. I wonder what would happen. So I’m anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just not respect amongst players. None. It’s sickening.
"It's one of the most arrogant organizations in the league," he added. “They whine about this stuff all of the time, and look what happens?” Tortorella said. “It’s ridiculous. But they’ll whine about something else over there, won’t they? Starting with their two [expletive] stars."
The whiner label for Crosby dates back to his earlier days in the league, as the former No. 1 overall pick was known for complaining to the referees. Crosby responded to a week's worth of bashing on Friday in an appearance on 105.9 The X.
"It's not a coincidence that all of this nonsense is going on this time of year, especially where it's coming from, it's not a coincidence," he said. "It's something we've all dealt with before and shouldn't be surprised by it.
"In the case of [Tortorella], he's obviously upset that his player gets hit, but I don't know when all this stuff started where all this bickering had to go on in the media. The game is played on the ice. There's things that happen out there that I'm sure both teams don't like, and that's been the case since a lot of guys played before us. That's hockey. I don't know when everyone started having to complain through the media … it can stay on the ice a lot of times. It seems to be a pretty common thing here lately."
Notice that with all the hatred being flung at the Penguins over the last week, not one bit of it involves anything Matt Cooke has done. Go figure.