Mark it down. The Bruins will repeat as Stanley Cup champs.
Yes, Sidney Crosby is healthy this spring and the Penguins have flexed their muscles enough to finish just three points from the top in the NHL standings.
Yes, the Rangers finished as the top seed in the East with a remarkable regular season behind King Henrik in net.
Yes, the Capitals are dangerous now that they’re in the playoffs with names like Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom.
Yes, Vancouver, with an NHL-best 111 points and a second straight Presidents' Trophy, has all the motivation in the world for a return trip to the finals for unfinished business.
And yes, Tim Thomas was somewhat human this year, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against mark after winning the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies last year with a 2.00 GAA and a record-setting .938 save percentage. And yes, Thomas has been asked to bear a bigger burden down the stretch to pick up the slack for injured backup Tuukka Rask (see below).
But this is a team that has taken on the identity of its coach. And if he’s excited, you know his players are excited and ready.
“I stood in front of the television [Wednesday] night,” Julien said Thursday morning just hours before Game 1 against the Capitals. “My whole family knows that this a time of year that is important to all of us and you make sure you stop on things, and not just that, but you’re excited to even watch the other games. I thought there was some excitement last night to start the playoffs, but at the same time this is the most exciting time of year.”
But there are big concerns.
The Bruins don’t have Nathan Horton, the man who won two of their three Game 7s with either an overtime goal or a goal late in regulation. But they’ve played 36 games this year without him.
They’ve adjusted. Rich Peverley came out of nowhere against the Flyers, Lightning and Canucks last year and now is finding his groove on the second line, replacing Horton.
The biggest concern, though, is the loss of Adam McQuaid. This is where it gets dicey.
He’s an enforcer and an effective back-checking defenseman.
He’s going to be replaced with any combination of Joe Corvo, Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau on the third defensive pairing.
Corvo, at times this season, has been a bad flashback for Bruins fans to Dennis Wideman of 2010 -- an offensive defenseman with scoring skills on the power play but a little shaky with the puck and prone to turnovers. He did have a plus-10 rating in 75 games this season. But consider that Claude Julien mixed and matched defensive pairs all season, often putting Zdeno Chara or Dennis Seidenberg out on the ice with him. Corvo was lucky to have the luxury of playing with two elite defensemen in a defensive system that could compensate for his offensive tendencies.
There’s no luck now. Julien is going with Chara and Seidenberg on the ice to contain the Ovechkin line, and it will be up to everyone else to pull their own weight.
And that’s what makes this Bruins team special.
The B's have pulled themselves up out of two massive slumps, winning 49 games and earning 102 points.
They started 3-7-0. They won 10 straight and became the hottest team in hockey for two months, posting a 29-7-2 mark in their next 38 games.
Then came “Obamagate” when Tim Thomas didn’t show up at the White House due to his political views. There are still those close to the Bruins who regret Thomas’ actions because of the distraction it caused, but the bigger issue was on the ice.
Their coach knew it. Their GM knew it. Everyone knew that the Bruins had to reinvent themselves to a degree if they held out any hope of making it back to June hockey.
Nathan Horton -- the man who won them two Game 7s last spring -- suffered a “mild” concussion on Jan. 22 in Philadelphia and would not set foot on the ice again this season.
The team was starting to show the cracks every Cup champ shows the year after.
Forget 3-7-0, for two months the Bruins didn’t win consecutive games. For 40 games, they failed to win as many as three in a row.
Peter Chiarelli stepped in and did it again at the trade deadline, just like he did with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly a year earlier. He acquired Brian Rolston to bolster the forward lines. He acquired Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau to address the back end.
Tuukka Rask injured his groin on March 3 and Thomas was asked -- for all intents and purposes -- to carry the load down the stretch, a weight he didn’t have to bear in 2011.
The B's fell to seventh place momentarily before turning it on at the end to finish as Northeast Division champions.
"You hear coaches talk about players who need to -- game schedule where there’s some ups and down," Julien said Thursday. “Well, when it comes to playoff time there can’t be that, there can’t be downs, there’s got to be -- everything’s got to be positive, everything’s got to be moving forward. You got to really stay away from looking back and live in the present and you try and build for the future.
"There’s no tomorrow when it comes to series to series, it’s up to us to make sure that we are ready. Like I said, our guys this morning were focused. I think they are excited and hopefully they’ll show that once the puck is dropped tonight. We’re a serious group. I didn’t find them tight or tense I just found them ready."
So, why will the Bruins repeat?
This team knows all about adversity. The B's showed it in 2011 when they lost their first two games of the playoffs at home against the Canadiens. Remember that? Everyone said the Bruins would go to Montreal and set foot again in Massachusetts to begin their summer vacation. They won both games in Montreal to tie the series and light their fire.
They lost the first two games to the Canucks, including a grotesque kick in the you-know-what in the final 30 seconds of Game 1 in Vancouver. Then Thomas left his net in Game 2 and the Bruins lost in overtime. They lost Horton in the opening moments of Game 3 in Boston.
This team also knows all about urgency. The B's know there’s no more urgent time than now to play their best hockey.
And they will, all the way to another Cup parade in June.
To the Trags Bag:
Will the Bruins repeat, and what are your expectations?
@Ed Too much for 140 [characters], but short version: Because the chemistry is back.
@ElizaNichole Can't have the mullet missing for too long... RT @Trags Only D missing again is McQuaid.
@0_LayDX simple, all the way baby!!!! go Bs!!!
@PakkAttackk Winning it all.
The Bruins have their lines intact and the chemistry with Tyler Seguin joining Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron seems to be in full working order. If the top line clicks, the pressure will be taken off the likes of Milan Lucic, Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, and -- like last year -- the production will follow.
With the Red Sox' home opener set for Friday at Fenway, how concerned are you about their start and their roster, which includes just three players on the bench and 13 pitchers on the pitching staff?
@CraigMacCormack Shortened bench magnified w/ Crawford out. Where's Lavarnway? RT
@bcolby99 3 bench players is not good....need to cut apitcher (or two)....Pedey HR helps...
@gavin_chris Is this a trick question? Because I believe the answer is having Bobby V is worse
@Marc_Normandin Long-term? Would be 13 pitchers. That's too many. But right now, it's been good with the starters going short.
This is a situation that can’t and won’t last, especially if the Red Sox continue to have trouble generating offense. Bobby Valentine will need -- and get -- more weapons on his bench so he can do more late-game pinch-hitting and pinch-running. On Tuesday, Valentine let Kelly Shoppach hit in the eighth with two outs and none on and the Red Sox trailing just 2-1. Shoppach was 0-for-8 going in against Ricky Romero. He ended the inning with a strikeout swinging. I've got to think that is a situation where Valentine could use another bat -- other than Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- to pinch hit. Ryan Lavarnway comes to mind.