BOSTON It shouldnt be difficult to believe that this Bruins team is vastly different this time around, should it?
Armed with a 2-0 lead in the series and heading to their home ice for a pair of hockey dates that could theoretically see the Bs close out the Philadelphia Flyers in Boston, the Black and Gold could have very easily bounded out of the gate lacking urgency.
Last years Bruins team couldnt or wouldnt show that ability to close things out when up against the very talented Flyers team, and stumbled badly after building up a 3-0 lead in the series while losing David Krejci to a dislocated right wrist in Game Three.
Perhaps it had something to do with a Game Seven Bs lineup against the Flyers that included Steve Begin, Trent Whitfield and Miroslav Satan three players that suited up for a grand total of two NHL games this season and was missing David Krejci, Marco Sturm, Dennis Seidenberg and Tim Thomas among others.
There are some mornings that guys have more jump and they are more chatty, said Chara. There are mornings that you can see the excitement and focus is there. I think thats what it was this morning.
We are glad that we are in the position that we are. But still there is one more win we have to accomplish to move on, and that is where our focus is right now.
It seemed eerily familair a year ago with the Black and Gold in the same position, but the Bruins proved that was then and this is now by pounding the Philadelphia Flyers early and often in a 5-1 shellacking featuring dominant performances in every phase of the hockey game at TD Garden.
One could simply say that no team has come back from a 3-0 deficit during the playoffs in consecutive seasons as assurance that the Bruins wont be frittering anything away to Philly this time around. But a team full of proud players that have heard jokes about collapses and being chokers all summer isnt going to leave anything to the hockey history books that slapped them upside the head last year.
Last year we had a good chance to play in the Conference Final and who knows what could happen, said Krejci. So this year we just really want to beat these guys and get to the Conference Final and go from there.
First of all, we have about half the guys werent here last year. Its a deeper, we have bigger depth in our lineup, and we felt good in the first round. So hopefully thats going to help us in the second round, too.
Even better than that the Bruins sailed through the Game Three victory with complete health and momentum still squarely in their corner and the Flyers have yanked their starting goaltender in each of the three games while also dearly missing big blueliner Chris Pronger.
Both teams are vastly different hockey entities going in different directions a year later on the hockey calendar, and one doesnt have to peer all that deeply into the score sheet to see just how different the Bruins are. Of course theres the old steady standbys like Zdeno Chara (2 goals, a plus-4 and a team-high five shots on net) and Patrice Bergeron (17-of-19 face-off wins, an assist and a plus) have been performing like champs in the first couple of games, but nearly all of the new faces are making a difference for a determined Bs bunch.
Rookie Brad Marchand wasnt good enough to crack the playoff roster last year when Whitfield played in his place, but this time around Marchand set up Zdeno Charas first goal while bouncing like a pinball all over the ice for a game-high seven hits. New Bruins winger Nathan Horton capped off one of his finest playoff performances with a Gordie Howe hat trick that included an assist on David 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.
That doesnt even mention a healthy Krejci with eight points (4 goals, 4 assists) in three playoff games against the Flyers this season while he battles through scraps with fellow feisty skill players like Ville Leino and Kris Versteeg. The Bruins are 11-0-1 in the last 12 games played against the Flyers with Krejci in the lineup and Krejci has 18 points and a plus-10 against Philadelphia during that time period. Krejci finished with three points and a plus-2 in the victory, and helped dust the Flyers with his crisp one-timer off a Milan Lucic pass 63 seconds into the game
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.
I am focused on this year. I am 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.
That doesnt even count the biggest difference-maker in the entire series: Tim Thomas was outstanding against with 37 saves on a night when his defense managed to keep the actual scoring chances to a minimum. Thomas ripped off a stretch of 68 straight saves between Game Two and Three, and the Bruins goaltender is starting to taste what could be an incredibly fulfilling postseason for the man behind the mask. The Bs goaltender has put together a .967 in the last two games against the high octane Flyers, and all of their skaters have gone away frustrated knowing its going to be nearly impossible to beat the Vezina Trophy favorite with the roll hes currently residing in.
Thats not even mentioning Dennis Seidenberg with another solid 28 minutes skating alongside Chara in a top pairing, or guys like Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle that have added to the depth and the overall talent level in Boston.
The Bruins will continue to hear the questions about last season now that theyre up 3-0 in the series against a Flyers team that shocked them last spring, but things couldnt be any different.
The Bruins have come through on the other side of the heartache, skittishness and bitterness that signified last seasons hockey meltdown, and theyre a much better, stronger, more lethal team for it.
Its wont be a long now for a fractured Flyers team that simply isnt good enough to take down a much different Bruins team this time around.