Bruins

Bruins core has a chance to join some select company with another Cup win

Bruins core has a chance to join some select company with another Cup win

The Bruins aren’t quite there yet, of course, but the third Stanley Cup Final appearance in the past decade puts them in some pretty select company.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the standard-bearer with three Stanley Cup titles, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who also hoisted the Cup three times the past decade with their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury, surrounded by a couple of vastly different-looking supporting casts.

Then there’s the two Stanley Cups for the Los Angeles Kings with a core of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick. They're beginning now to hit some hard times as they grow older just as the Bruins did about five years ago.

Just getting to the Final three times in an eight-year span puts the Bruins in that conversation. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask were all a big part of those teams. It’s also a fitting return for a core still looking for that capping achievement to put them in the same conversation with those other dynastic teams after they fell short vs. the Blackhawks in 2013.

So, it’s a pretty important opportunity for the Boston legacies of elite players Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara and Rask. A second championship can put them in a higher category in NHL and Bruins lore. Chara is headed to the Hall of Fame once he retires regardless of what happens, but a second Stanley Cup could be the final accomplishment that punches the Hall ticket for Bergeron as well.

For a group that has grown up together and is now older, wiser and more established, it’s an exciting return to a place they weren’t sure they’d ever get back to again.

“It’s very special. It means a lot. We’ve basically grown up together [since] we’ve been around each other for so long. It’s been a fun ride along with this core group as the leaders. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” said Bergeron, who enters the Cup Final with eight goals and 13 points along with a plus-8 in 17 games in these playoffs. “Like I’ve said before, the older you get, you realize how hard it is to get to his point. You need to be thankful for that. But over the last few years, we’ve built something special with the young guys. They are a big part of this group and this team. They want to get better and they are big-time players. They relish every challenge, so it’s been a fun ride.”

It remains to be seen who they'll face after the St. Louis Blues evened the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks on Friday night, but the B’s will be in as good of a situation as they’ve ever been entering the Cup Final. They'll be healed and well-rested with 10 days off between their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes and the May 27 start of the Cup Final at TD Garden. They got the short playoff series they desperately needed with the four-game sweep of the Canes.  

For Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara and Rask, another Cup will be career-defining. For 13-year veteran David Backes, it will be even more so, and for younger players David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo and others, it’s just the beginning of what should be bright careers in Black and Gold.

“You don’t know when you’re going to get these opportunities. It’s something we’ve stressed to the younger guys that they’re pretty darn fortunate to be in the Stanley Cup Final now,” said Backes. “We were saying Eastern Conference Final before, but now it’s Stanley Cup Final. Some guys play their whole career and never get this opportunity.”

The bottom line is this: The Bruins are the prohibitive favorite after the Lightning, Capitals and Penguins, among others, all faltered and opened the door wide for another Boston championship opportunity. It’s up to them to walk through, but this is probably the best shot that Boston’s veteran core will ever have to win another Cup in their standout careers.

Each member of the Bruins core will get the chance to stamp the Bruins as one of the best, most dynastic teams of the past decade in the NHL, That’s really all any hockey player can ask for.

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Zach Senyshyn: NHL action 'definitely lit a fire under me'

Zach Senyshyn: NHL action 'definitely lit a fire under me'

In the 2015 NHL Draft, the Boston Bruins took a winger by the name of Zach Senyshyn with their third of three consecutive first-round picks. Senyshyn, 18 at the time he was picked, was considered to be a bit of a reach with the No. 15 overall pick, as some scouting services had him graded as a second-round prospect.

For a few years, it did seem that the services may have been right about Senyshyn. He struggled to gain footing in the Bruins' organization. But last year, he finally made his long-anticipated NHL debut towards the end of the season. And in the action he saw, he performed well.

In two games for the Bruins, Senyshyn showcased his speed and was able to notch the first goal of his career (albeit an empty-netter) in that action. And getting time at the NHL level has sparked him to perform better ahead of the 2019-20 NHL season as he spoke about in a recent interview.

"It definitely lit a fire under me," Senyshyn said of his NHL playing time, via the Bruins official Twitter account. "When you get a taste of it and how close it really is, you get really excited for the upcoming season. For my summer training, it's made me a lot more passionate and really excited for the upcoming year."

Senyshyn did have some thrills last season, including getting to work with the Bruins during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. While he didn't log any postseason action, he did get to see how veterans prepare for key games up close and personal. And he is hoping that will help him to prepare as he battles for a spot on the Bruins' roster moving forward.

And speaking of Senyshyn's battle for a roster spot, Senyshyn noted a few things he wanted to do in order to ensure that he has a chance to make the squad this season.

"You know, I Just kinda worry about my own game and really be confident out there," Senyshyn said. "Know what I do well and play into my strengths and really just do whatever I can to help the team win."

Senyshyn will have a lot of competition for a spot on the Bruins roster, as new additions Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie will be vying for spots on the regular roster as well. But if he can continue to show off his speed and shows better goal-scoring instincts, Senyshyn should have a chance to make the roster.

HAGGERTY: Can Pastrnak use playoffs as learning experience?>>>

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Bruins Summer Series: Can David Pastrnak use playoffs as learning experience?

Bruins Summer Series: Can David Pastrnak use playoffs as learning experience?

Today’s piece on David Pastrnak is the last in a 10-part series over two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

When you look back at the numbers, they certainly didn’t tell the entire story.

David Pastrnak finished tied for the team lead with his nine playoff goals and he had a perfectly respectable 19 points in his 24 playoff games during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. But the 23-year-old Bruins right winger wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was while scoring 81 points in 66 games during the regular season. Worse still, he appeared to lose confidence during Boston’s postseason run and at points was turning away chances to shoot away and rip one-timers that he was scoring on frequently during the regular season.

How much of it can be attributed to problems related to the thumb injury he suffered away from the rink during the regular season? How much of it was battling through the playoff grind where mental strength is just as important as dazzling physical abilities?

It sure felt like a combination of both, and the Bruins are hoping that Pastrnak’s battle with his own self-confidence is something that will make him a better player moving forward.

“I go back to his first postseason against Ottawa and it wasn’t very good. Then the following year he was strong in the first round against Toronto and maybe slipped a little bit in the second round. Then this past postseason, I thought he got better and then it got even harder in the third round,” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with NBC Sports Boston. “So these are learning experiences for these young players to really understand what it takes as you advance in the playoffs. Each round is different than the previous one.

“Then you get to the conference final and the finals and it’s tough hockey out there. I look at Pasta and he’s grown from the first playoff experience to this last one, and I expect even more growth out of him moving forward. I understand losing confidence, but I don’t understand losing confidence and not shooting. That’s what I’d talk to him about.

"For me, if you lose confidence, it means putting more pucks on net if you’re counted on to score goals. But everybody’s different when they lose confidence and everybody thinks differently. Pasta came out and said that he wasn’t confident shooting the puck, so maybe he’d just give it to somebody else. From my perspective, you put pucks on net and then everybody has to turn around and find where the puck is. Maybe that creates two opportunities out of it. You could tell he was fighting it because he was struggling with the one-timer.”

So is the player based on his own comments following the season where Pastrnak called the 24-game playoff run “a big mental experience.” Certainly that was obvious as he flailed away at one-timer attempts and eventually turned down shooting opportunities when the laser shot from the face-off circles is his scoring bread and butter. Pastrnak vowed to be better moving forward, and it’s a good bet he will be based on his willingness to work hard, and his undeniable upward trajectory since joining the NHL as the league’s youngest player at 18 years old during his rookie season.

Pastrnak is an NHL superstar-in-the-making and his first run to the Stanley Cup Final is another opportunity to better himself as a hockey player.

Now it’s more a question as to how good he can be where he finished with 38 goals and 81 points last season, and clearly has the ability to get up in the neighborhood of 50 goals and 100 points if healthy and at his best.

The other question is where he’d be best at moving forward. It would appear the Bruins are comfortable keeping the skilled, game-breaking Pastrnak on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the Perfection Line. But there’s always the option to move Pastrnak down with his fellow Czech David Krejci and diversify their scoring at times, while also potentially moving a bigger, stronger forward with Bergeron and Marchand.

This will be a daily question for Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins coaching staff on a game-by-game basis, but the bigger picture is about Pastrnak’s evolution into the best player on the B’s roster. The 23-year-old isn’t there yet and he showed during the long postseason run that there are still areas where his game can mature into the complete player he will become.

But there’s still no denying the bright future for Pastrnak after five brilliant NHL seasons, and that this past spring will end up being another formative experience that is pointed toward being the future of the franchise.    

Key stat: 81 – The career-high number of points in 66 games for Pastrnak, who is just scratching the surface of how good he can be at 23 years old. Now it’s about continuing to evolve during the regular season and becoming that kind of dominant player in the postseason as well.  

Pastrnak in his own words: “It was obviously challenging for me, but I had 25 guys to help pick me up just like I would do the opposite [for them]. It was the mental stuff, you know? In this kind of life, even if you don't want to see stuff, read stuff and blah-blah with the media, it's tough. You're always going to see it. And that's fine, you know? I will take a lot of positives from this. I'm just going to get stronger mentally. So it was a good experience. It's a big mental experience. I gained a lot this postseason. The mental stuff is what I learned the most. [I learned] that it doesn't [expletive] matter if you play a bad friggen' game. It's the playoffs. Or if you have a bad shift. It's the playoffs and you just need to come back to the bench and make sure you're ready for the next shift no matter what happened behind you. It's the tough part of hockey sometimes when you get back stuck on something instead of looking forward, and focusing on the next shift. Sometimes you get stuck on thinking what happened before and that brings you down kind of."

The biggest question he faces: Can Pastrnak evolve after admitting to losing confidence during the Stanley Cup playoff run? Was the thumb injury a one-time blip that the young right winger is going to learn from and become an even better pro as a result? Beyond that it’s a matter of Pastrnak becoming as good as he wants to be, provided he can continue to improve his two-way game, retain all his offensive gifts and learn how to do deal with being targeted by other teams on a nightly basis.

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