BOSTON — It’s hard to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The Detroit Red Wings won in 1997 and again in 1998. No one has done it since. But after winning it all last season, the Bruins avoided a post-Cup swoon, returning to the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s second seed. That’s one spot higher than last year.
After practice in Wilmington Tuesday, goalie Tim Thomas said at playoff time it’s dangerous to think too far ahead.
“Over the past couple of weeks, at times, I started to put pressure on myself like, ‘You gotta win it again. You gotta win it again.’ That isn’t how we won it last year,” Thomas said. “The way we won it was just by coming out and playing the best we can. We started out the first series down 2-0. It ain’t like everything clicked right away.”
This time around the Bruins face the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals in a best-of-seven series. Bruins head coach Claude Julien says postseason experience is important, but he’s not following a recipe.
“This year is a different year. So, I don’t think duplicating what happened last year is going to make us a better team or give us a better chance of winning,” Julien said. “We’ve just got to live in the moment here and recreate it in our own way.”
While most of the championship roster is still intact, on Wednesday the Bruins ruled out any chance of Nathan Horton returning for the playoffs. The forward suffered a concussion in January and has been out since. But depth remains one of the team’s strengths. This year, the Bruins were second in the NHL in goals scored without having a player in the top 30 in the category.
Julien says he also values his squad’s determination.
“To me, how hard you compete and how hard you work is what’s going to give you an opportunity to win. We’ve seen so many teams with tons of talent, but the ‘compete’ level wasn’t there,” Julien said. “Anytime you have a ‘compete’ level that is second to none and you believe and you have a good work ethic, you at least give yourself a chance.”
The Capitals took three of their four games against Boston this season, but Washington had a disappointing campaign. The Caps squeaked into the seventh Eastern Conference playoff spot when Ottawa went cold down the stretch.
One reason for the Capitals’ struggles is the play of Alex Ovechkin. Washington’s leading scorer has tallied more than 100 points four times, but dropped to a career low of 65 this year.
Bruins winger Milan Lucic says Washington may have underperformed, but he and his teammates learned an important lesson during the playoffs last year: ignore regular season results.
“One thing that we did was that we never took anyone or any opponent for granted,” Lucic said. “Just because we’re second and they’re seventh doesn’t mean a thing right now. Everyone starts off at 0-0.”
It takes 16 victories to win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins are hoping to notch number one Thursday night at the Garden.