- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2012

History is not on the Boston Bruins‘ side this spring. No NHL team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998, which essentially is forever ago in hockey terms.

So much has changed with the lockout, style and parity, but the defending-champion Bruins have the look of a team primed to make another run at the Cup.

“The confidence you get from having won will be important,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said on a conference call Sunday. “You can never underestimate the value of experience. I’ve seen that grow in our group. We’ve gained a lot from winning the Cup. Having said all that, it’s real tough to repeat. So it’s going to be a challenge.”

The challenge begins anew against the Washington Capitals with Game 1 in Boston on Thursday. But it really began last June, when the Bruins rallied to beat the Vancouver Canucks for the franchise’s first title since 1970.

And though the slow start initiated talk of the typical Stanley Cup hangover, this core group, led by captain and Norris Trophy defenseman Zdeno Chara and budding superstar Tyler Seguin, rebounded to win 21 of 24 games during a stretch in November and December.

Chiarelli described this season in three parts, including recent “mediocrity” that featured two losses to the Caps at TD Garden. But Boston won seven of its final nine to clinch the Northeast Division and cruise into the playoffs.

“Right through the lineup, I see guys clicking. Happy to be where we are now. All seasons are up and down unless you have some record-breaking season,” Chiarelli said. “I’m satisfied that we got through it, and we are where we are now.”

So is Claude Julien, who went from talk that his job was in danger last April to Cup-winning and All-Star Game coach in the past 10 months. More than anyone else, he has seen the Bruins‘ inconsistency and, at times, complacency. He was talking Saturday night, however, like a man ready to see his team flip a switch into playoff mode.

“Now we start that new season that everybody gets excited about, and we’ve got as good a chance as anybody else to win,” Julien said. “And even though it’s hard to as they say repeat nowadays, and it hasn’t been done in a long time, we’re certainly going to challenge that.”

Julien noted it’s been a “mental struggle” for the Bruins this season. If the Caps think the expectations of being picked to win the Cup are hard, how about trying to defend it?

The first focus is on the Caps, whom Chiarelli called a “pretty formidable foe,” especially given that Washington won three of the four meetings this season. But as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins‘ sights are set well beyond one round.

“I feel good about our team. I think we have more skill because I think our skill has matured from last year,” Chiarelli said. “It’s so tight. You’ve got to get some luck along the way. But I think we’ve got as good a chance as any to come out of the East.”

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