By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON It's not difficult to believe the Bruins are vastly different this time around, is it?
Last year they couldnt close things out against the Flyers, stumbling badly after losing David Krejci to a dislocated right wrist in Game 3 as they built a 3-0 series that, as everybody knows, they couldn't hold.
Of course, the fact that Steve Begin, Trent Whitfield and Miroslav Satan three players who suited up for a grand total of two NHL games this season were among those who played in last year's Game 7, while Krejci, Marco Sturm, Dennis Seidenberg and Tim Thomas, among others, did not, had a little to do with it, as well.
Which is one of the reasons that things seem very different now that these Bruins -- relatively healthy and clicking on all cylinders -- are again up, 3-0, on the same Flyers after a dominating 5-1 win in which they dominated all phases of the game.
One could simply joke that no one has ever blown a 3-0 series lead in consecutive seasons as further proof there'll be no repeat this year. But it's not 2009-10 anymore. A team full of proud players who heard jokes about collapses and being chokers all summer isnt leaving anything to chance.
We're glad that we're in the position that we are," said Zdeno Chara. "But, still, there is one more win we have to accomplish to move on, and that is where our focus is right now.
Last year we had a good chance to play in the Conference final, and who knows what could have happened from there? said Krejci. So this year we just really want to beat these guys and get to the Conference final and go from there.
Both teams are vastly different this year. The Flyers are dearly missing Chris Pronger, and their goaltending woes are so acute that they've actually changed goalies in each of the first three games of the series.
The Bruins, on the other hand, are healthy and have momentum at their backs after having won seven of their last eight games.
First of all, about half the guys werent here last year," said Krejci. "Its a deeper team, we have more depth in our lineup.
Chara (two goals, a plus-4 and a team-high five shots on net on Wedneday night) and Patrice Bergeron (17-of-19 faceoff wins, an assist and a plus) have been performing like champs, but nearly all the new faces are making a difference:
Rookie Brad Marchand wasnt good enough to crack the playoff roster last year when Whitfield played in his place, but he's become a key cog in this season's postseason run. He set up Charas first goal Wednesday night, and bounced like a pinball all over the ice with a game-high seven hits.
First-year Bruin Nathan Horton capped off one of his finest playoff performances with a Gordie Howe hat trick that included an assist on Krejcis first period goal, a second-period goal on his own, and a second-period scrap with veteran defenseman Sean ODonnell when things got testy in front of the Flyers net.
Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle have added to the depth and the overall talent level in Boston.
Seidenberg, who was injured and didn't participate in last year's playoffs, contributed another solid 28 minutes Wednesday night skating alongside Chara in a top pairing.
That doesnt even mention a healthy Krejci, who has eight points (4 goals, 4 assists) in the three games against the Flyers. The Bruins are 11-0-1 in their last 12 games against Philadelphia when Krejci's in the lineup, and he has 18 points and a plus-10 over those games. Krejci finished with three points and a plus-2 in the victory.
Nor does it account for the biggest difference-maker in the series. Thomas was outstanding again Wednesday with 37 saves on a night when his defense managed to keep the actual scoring chances to a minimum. He ripped off a stretch of 68 straight saves between Game 2 and 3, and is starting to taste what could be an incredibly fulfilling postseason.
I'm focused on this year," said Thomas. "I'm focused on what we as a team want to accomplish this year and what I as a player want to try to accomplish this year."
Thomas has a .967 save percentage in the last two games against the high-octane Flyers, and all the Philly skaters have gone away frustrated in the knowledge that its going to be nearly impossible to beat the Vezina Trophy favorite with the roll hes currently on.
The Bruins will continue to hear questions about last season now that theyre up 3-0, but it couldn't be any clearer that it's a new year.
Going into the series I was hoping for the Flyers to drop behind in the series, said Tim Thomas. It is what it is. Its a different year. Its totally different."
That it is. The Bruins have come through the heartache, skittishness and bitterness of last season, and are a better, stronger, more lethal team for it.