As the Boston Bruins embarked on defending the Stanley Cup last fall, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee told colleague Peter Chiarelli "you guys might be better this year than you were last year."
McPhee may very well be right. This is essentially the same group that captured the Cup last year, but with second-year center Tyler Seguin one year older and the experience of winning fresh in their minds.
They're the big, bad Bruins for a reason, as size and strength continue to be hallmarks of coach Claude Julien's team, but they've become even deeper. This is the only NHL team with six 20-goal scorers, and all four lines are dangerous at both ends of the ice.
Veteran right wing Brian Rolston, acquired at the trade deadline, was even taken aback by the Bruins' depth.
"On the outside, you don't realize it as much," Rolston said. "But as soon as you get back in and see how this team runs, it's very evident. You have to have that."
It's how the Bruins tick. Shut down Milan Lucic and David Krejci and there are Seguin, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly.
"They have a really good team," Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. "They won last year, and if you look at their lineup, [all lines] have somebody who can put the puck in the net."
Up front is where Boston shines, but depth continues on defense, past Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg down to Johnny Boychuk and deadline acquisition Greg Zanon. McPhee remarked that the Bruins "do everything well."
It didn't hurt to bring in Rolston, Zanon and Mike Mottau at the trade deadline. Adding veterans to an already-winning mix helped the Bruins finish the season 9-2-1.
"It's always nice to have guys like that who have such great personalities and experiences," Chara said. "Rolly played over 1,200 games in this league, so to add somebody of that caliber, it always helps because you can talk to the young guys, you can add what he went through with different teams."
After a tour that included stops with the Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, Rolston is back in Boston, where he spent parts of five seasons earlier this decade. In 21 games since his trade from New York, the 39-year-old has three goals and 12 assists.
Rolston said the idea of a veteran presence can be overstated, but he has thrived because Julien gave him a purpose within the team right away.
"It's a matter of guys coming in and helping the team more than anything. There's more leaders in this locker room; you can point anywhere in this locker room, there's leadership," he said. "They were going through a rough time, and you've got to help on the ice. That's most important, and that's what really defines a leader. I wanted to come in and try to help this team."
Speedy winger Rich Peverley, one of ex-Caps coach Bruce Boudreau's favorite players on the Bruins, pointed to Rolston, Mottau and even goaltender Marty Turco and their leadership as being vital down the stretch. Turco served as Tim Thomas' backup in recent weeks but isn't eligible for the playoffs. Regular backup Tukka Rask has been sidelined since March 3 with a groin/abdominal injury. He participated in practice Monday, but a timetable for his return has't been set.
Even with Turco going home, Boston has plenty of vocal leaders who learned from Mark Recchi, one of just a few players not back from last year's Cup team.
"It's about just having fun out there and trying to communicate as much as we can and really pass on the leadership, what I've learned," Bergeron said on a conference call Monday. "They're doing a great job on their own. Each and every day it seems like they're learning and they want to learn, which is key."
And with Rolston and others willing to keep teaching, Chara said their impact is "always positive."
"It's just great to have these kind of people and to have that depth on your team," the captain said.
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