Two goals in a nightmarish 17-second span, which clicked in the 18:44 mark of the third period of Game 6 of the 2012-13 Stanley Cup finals abruptly, prevented the Bruins from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 in their thrilling playoff series against the Blackhawks.
The soul-crushing ending capped an up and down season for the Bruins, who finished the lockout-shortened campaign with 62 points (28-14-6) and as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the postseason. In fact, the Bruins were on the brink of a first-round exit before they mounted a stunning third period comeback of their own against the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of that series to stay alive in the playoffs.
After that narrow escape, the B's then went on a roll, wining eight of their next nine outings, dispatching the Rangers in the second round in five games, before upsetting the powerful Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals, while sweeping them in the process.
By evading a demoralizing early elimination, the Bruins were able to avoid a "heads are gonna roll" approach and while changes were unavoidable this offseason, the team's brass and much of its nucleus returns in 2013-14. While there will be some new faces sporting spoked B's this season, the Bruins remain a deep, talented and defensively-responsible team. Moreover, the organization boasts further capability and stability in the form of general Peter Chiarelli, who continues to manage the salary cap well enough for the team to remain highly competitive, as well as coach Claude Julien, who can still get his players to buy into his system.
None of this would be possible were it not for the team's smooth transition last year from franchise goalie Tim Thomas to Tuukka Rask, who proved more than capable of shouldering the team's netminding chores at a high level.
While the Bruins maintain strong depth at the forward position, the team bid adieu to wingers Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr, who departed as free agents and then stunned the hockey world by dealing away former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to the Stars in a blockbuster swap that netted the team underrated winger Loui Eriksson and blue-line prospect Joe Morrow, among others.
After trying to acquire him for the stretch run last season, the Bruins improbably signed Jarome Iginla as a free agent and he's now penciled in as the right winger on a skilled line centered by slick playmaker David Krejci, which also features bounce-back candidate Milan Lucic on the left side.
Meanwhile, the addition of Eriksson solidifies the Bruins' other high-profile troika, which also includes all-around ace Patrice Bergeron in the middle, as well as the pesky and talented-as-ever Brad Marchand on the other wing.
For a little continuity, the Bruins' effective fourth line remains intact, with Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille (assuming he isn't given a crack at a third-line slot) and Shawn Thornton back to reprise their "Merlot Line" roles.
There's competition for slots on the team's third line, an unit that was never solidified last season. Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg are likely to form two-thirds of that trio, while the likes of Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith and Jared Knight figure to jostle for the other spot.
On the back end, the Bruins continue to be anchored by Zdeno Chara, arguably the NHL's premier shutdown defender. The team lost steady veteran Andrew Ference due to cap constraints and while his ability in the transition game and leadership will be missed, it does provide added opportunities for young blueliners Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, all of whom look capable of taking things to next level. The rugged Johnny Boychuck, who owns a cannon of a shot and the underrated Adam McQuaid round out the team's reliable defensive unit.
Health permitting, the Bruins look well-equipped to contend for the Cup once again and for those concerned about potential lingering implications of the team's collapse in the finals, note that the 2010-11 Bruins (and there are plenty of players left from that squad) earned a championship after having finished their previous campaign with an epic collapse, losing four straight games to the Flyers to blow a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Big Guns
Zdeno Chara (D): The hulking 36-year-old remains one of the NHL's top shut-down defenders and given how fitness-minded he is, Chara shows no signs of slowing down at this stage of his career. The Bruins' captain is coming off a 19-point effort in 48 regular season contests in 2012-13, but he did manage 15 points in 22 post-season games. He still possesses a booming shot that should result in better offensive numbers this coming season, given the extensive ice time he sees while skating both a regular shifting and manning the point on the B's power play.
Milan Lucic (LW): The 2012-13 regular season was a frustrating one for the Bruins' burly power forward, as he totaled just seven goals and twenty assists in 46 games. Things got so bad that Lucic was made a healthy scratch for a game late in the season. His three-year, $18 million extension was starting to look like a shaky investment, but a strong showing in the playoffs – seven goals and 19 points in 22 games – suggests that he'll return to form in 2013-14. When he is on, Lucic is an intimidating freight train on skates, with a goal-scorers' knack and a surprising touch as passer, all of which combine to rank him as one of the better fantasy options at the relatively scarce left wing position. He's slated to work on the Bruins' top line this coming season, which is centered by the nifty David Krejci, so a bounce back is in order for the bruising Lucic, who also helps fantasy owners in the PIM category. To date, he has racked up 600 penalty minutes in 405 career NHL games.
Tuukka Rask (G): The 26-year-old Finn solidified his status as a top-notch goalie for the B's with a fine 2012-13 effort (featuring a 19-10-5 record with a GAA of 2.00 and save percentage of .929) that carried into the playoffs. He then signed an eight-year, $56 million contract extension this offseason that ensures that he'll man the Boston nets for the foreseeable future. Rask is a calm customer, who plays in front of a defensively sound team. He heads into the 2013-14 season as one of the top netminders in fantasy hockey and though the Bruins will spell him at times to keep him fresh, neither Niklas Svedberg or Chad Johnson are major threats to steal a ton of work from Rask.
Two to Watch
Loui Eriksson (RW): The 28-year-old Swede, who joined the Bruins in a blockbuster trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas, is projected to work as the right wing on the Bruins' No. 2 line this coming season. In that scenario, his linemates would be Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. With the addition of right winger Jarome Iginla, who is expected to play on the team's No. 1 line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, the Bruins' top six group up front looks pretty solid these days. While Eriksson, who had 12 goals and 17 assists in 48 games this past season for the Stars, may not have Seguin's electric skills, he figures to be a productive two-way forward for the Bruins, with a uptick in fantasy value likely in store for him this coming campaign, given the quality of his projected linemates.
Dougie Hamilton (D): The 19-year-old blueliner Hamilton more than held his own in his first NHL season, recording five goals and 11 assists in 42 games. In recognition of his effort, he was given the Bruins' Seventh Player Award, presented to the player who went above and beyond the call of duty for the team and exceeded the expectations of fans during the 2012-13 season. During the postseason, he only suited up for seven games, notching three helpers, as the team decided to roll with more experienced options, as well as the streaking Torey Krug. In the long-term though, Hamilton is brimming with potential. He's a smooth skater, who displays poise and skill with the puck, and once he adds some more bulk to his 6-foot-5 frame and gains more pro experience, the defensive end of his game should round out further to complement his developing offensive game.
Jarome Iginla (RW): The long-time Calgary Flame spurned the Bruins' efforts to acquire him last March, but he is finally set to wear a Boston sweater after signing a free agent deal to help fill the vacant spot left when Nathan Horton left for Columbus. Iginla, who notched 14 goals and 33 points in 44 games last season, will likely slot into the Bruins' top line alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci. He may have slowed down a tad, but with linemates of that caliber Iginla, a respected teammate and leader, figures to experience a renaissance with the Bruins. While it wouldn't be a surprise if the 36-year-old hits the 30-goal mark with his new team, his name appears in this section given the Bruins' tendency to boast a balanced scoring attack.
Patrice Bergeron (C): At press time, Bergeron is recovering from several injuries that he sustained in the playoffs, but the Bruins' outstanding two-way center expects to be healed up in time for the upcoming campaign. Bergeron finished the 2012-13 regular season with 32 points in 42 games and added 15 points in 22 playoff contests, while continuing to excel on faceoffs. Bergeron turned 28 in July and enters his prime signed for the next eight seasons, ensuring that he will remain a cornerstone of the Boston franchise, presuming his body holds up. The tough-as-nails Bergeron does have a concussion history, but when healthy, he is a perennial Selke Trophy candidate, who anchors one of the B's top lines while providing the team with quiet leadership and remarkable consistency. He's irreplaceable to the Bruins in real terms and only appears in this section because center is a deep position in fantasy and many of Bergeron's strongest traits aren't really measurable statistically.
Carl Soderberg (RW): Though it's a little early to project the Bruins' 2013-14 lines, barring key injuries, Soderberg seems likely to work on the team's third line, an assignment that probably caps his fantasy upside out of the gate. Though Soderberg didn't display elite wheels in limited action with the Bruins, he does possess a nice blend of size and skill and, based on his production in Sweden, it's not hard to imagine him benefiting greatly from a full NHL training camp. As long as he's seeing third line duty though, he'll only help those in deeper formats, but of course he'd only be an injury or two away from a promotion to one of the Bruins' top two lines, a role that does carry fantasy utility.
Torey Krug (D): When injuries hit the Bruins' blue line in the playoffs, Krug was a revelation, holding his own defensively, while provided a spark to the B's attack. He finished up the playoffs with four goals and six points in 15 games and appears poised to spend the entire 2013-14 campaign with the big club. At 5-foot-9, 180 he relies on smarts, positioning and quickness to fulfill his defensive responsibilities. When he has the puck, he can be a dynamic puck mover, using his wheels and deft passing touch to create scoring opportunities. Krug owns a dangerous shot, too, and if he can secure a power player role in his first full season with the Bruins, then Krug – who has just three career regular season games under his belt - could emerge as a fantasy factor.
Malcolm Subban (G): The 19-year-old Subban is a long shot to stick with the big club, with an assignment with AHL Providence – where he'd likely be split time with either Niklas Svedberg or Chad Johnson – likely on tap for him. In what was likely his final junior season, Subban compiled a 29-11-4 record along with a 2.14 GAA and superb .934 save percentage (both OHL bests) for the Belleville Bulls, to go along with five shutouts. With Tuukka Rask around for the long haul though, Subban won't be rushed along, but the Bruins do believe that the 2012 first-rounder is ready to move on to the pro level, where he is likely to need at least a couple of seasons of minor league experience before graduating to the NHL.
Ryan Spooner (C): Though Spooner, arguably the Bruins' top young forward prospect, didn't record a point in four NHL games last season, he did lead AHL Providence with 57 points (including 17 goals) in 59 games. Listed at 5-10, 180 pounds, Spooner will need to be nifty to survive the rigors of the NHL, but the budding playmaker does own a nice offensive skill set that has him knocking on the big club's door this season. He could eventually slot in as a top six forward, but if he does crack the B's roster this fall, it would likely be as a third-liner.
Alexander Khokhlachev (C): Khokhlachev, selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2011 NHL entry draft, recorded three points in 11 games with AHL Providence this past season. The 5-foot-10, 172-pounder was almost dealt to the Flames in March, but remains in the Bruins' organization after that deal fell apart. At 19, he still needs some seasoning, but in time the shifty Khokhlachev, projects as a feisty forward, who can provide the B's (or another team, if he is ever really dealt) with some spark on offense.