Bruins keep core intact for repeat bid

The Boston Bruins ended nearly four decades of frustration when they beat the Canucks 4-0 in Game 7 of the Final in Vancouver to win Boston’s first Stanley Cup since 1972.

It was sweet redemption for a club that just one year earlier had suffered a devastating collapse against the Flyers when Boston couldn’t close out a 3-0 lead in the second round. That painful defeat proved to make the Bruins stronger, as they completed a storybook run through the playoffs that included a seven-game epic against their most bitter rivals in Montreal, a measure of revenge against Philadelphia with a second-round sweep, another seven-game nail-biter against upstart Tampa Bay and the Final against a Vancouver club that quickly became nearly as hated as the Habs in Boston for its antics.

That Final went seven games, as well, but it didn’t seem that close. The Canucks barely eked out three one-goal wins in their home rink, but were dominated in the three games at the Garden and the decisive Game 7 back at Rogers Arena. Now the Bruins face the task of trying to come up with a fitting encore as the rest of the league sets its sights on knocking off the new champs.

2010-11 record: 46-25-11, 103 points (first Northeast Division, third Eastern Conference; beat Montreal 4-3 in first round of playoffs, Philadelphia 4-0 in second round, Tampa Bay 4-3 in Eastern Conference finals and Vancouver 4-3 in the Stanley Cup Final)

Key additions: D Joe Corvo (trade with Carolina); F Benoit Pouliot (free agent); D Dougie Hamilton (draft); F Josh Hennessy (free agent); F Jamie Tardif (free agent)

Key losses: F Mark Recchi (retired); F Michael Ryder (signed with Dallas); D Tomas Kaberle (signed with Carolina); D Shane Hnidy (retired)

Burning question: Can the Bruins repeat as Cup champions?

No team has won back-to-back Cups since the Red Wings in 1997 and ’98. That’s hardly a surprise considering the toll it takes on a team to survive the grueling road to the Cup, followed by a short offseason and then having every opponent gunning for you every night. But the Bruins are better positioned to make another run than most recent champs, many of which faced significant personnel changes as other organizations raided their rosters in free agency or they simply weren’t able to keep everyone because of salary cap constraints.

Although the Bruins will miss Recchi and Ryder, the rest of the forward corps returns intact. Kaberle is the only regular on defense gone, and Joe Corvo could be a better fit. Tim Thomas will be hard-pressed to match his record-setting numbers from last year, but he should remain among the game’s elite netminders.

The continuity with so many players returning gives the Bruins a major advantage in trying to repeat, especially since the club’s strong chemistry was such a vial part of their success last season.

2011-12 outlook: The Bruins have just about everyone back from last year, including the top line of David Krejci (13 goals and 49 assists for 62 points, plus an NHL-leading 12-11-23 in the postseason), Milan Lucic (30-32-62) and Nathan Horton (26-27-53). Patrice Bergeron (22-35-57, plus 6-14-20 in the playoffs) returns to anchor the second line, but the Bruins must still re-sign restricted free agent Brad Marchand, who enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in the regular season (21-20-41) and was even more effective in the postseason (11-8-19). Tyler Seguin had only 11-11-22 totals in limited action as a rookie but should get a chance to play a bigger role this season, perhaps replacing Recchi on Bergeron’s other flank.

Boston will still have its impressive depth up front with trade-deadline pickups Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly around for a full season and the highly effective fourth line of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille all back, as well.

Zdeno Chara is also back to lead the defense after being a Norris finalist last year and posting a league-best plus-33 rating. Coach Claude Julien’s decision to put Chara and Dennis Seidenberg together as a top shutdown pairing may have been his most important move in the playoffs. Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and the newcomer Corvo round out a solid, veteran defense. Thomas (35-11-9, 2.00 goals-against average, .938 save percentage) and Tuukka Rask give the Bruins the security blanket of having the league’s top netminding duo.

Did you know? The Bruins ended their Stanley Cup drought this spring, but they did it without ever snapping out of their drought on the power play. The Bruins managed to convert only 10 of their 88 chances with the man advantage in the postseason, a success rate of 11.4 percent. To put that in perspective, Florida was dead last in the NHL on the power play during the regular season, and the Panthers had a 13.1 percent success rate.

Boston bucked the trend of special teams dominating play in the post-lockout era. The five previous Cup winners since the rule changes enacted after that work stoppage were a combined 20.3 percent on the power play, with Carolina in 2006 (24.0 percent), Pittsburgh in 2009 (20.6 percent) and Chicago in 2010 (22.5 percent) all close to doubling Boston’s success rate this past spring. The Bruins survived thanks to dominant play at even strength, scoring a league-best 62 goals at five-on-five in the playoffs and by limiting the opposition’s power play, as well, most notably holding Vancouver’s to two goals on 33 chances in the Final (6.1 percent).