BOSTON – It’s been quite an education for young players like Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak as they’ve embarked on this first journey to the Stanley Cup Final with the Boston Bruins.
Pastrnak obviously has been through plenty already in his five NHL seasons and feels more like a veteran after starting off as the youngest guy in the league and turning into a star offensive player for the Black and Gold. But for any of the young Bruins players who have never been through the full two-month grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, seeing how Boston’s veteran core has handled its ups and downs has been an irreplaceable experience.
It’s something that they’re all aware of as they prepare for Monday's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and reflect on some key turning points of these playoffs.
“You’re playing every second night for two months in an intense atmosphere," DeBrusk said. "These are intense games. You have to kind of learn to go through that. We had a taste last year with a couple of rounds, but now we’re in the final dance and that’s a little bit of a different animal.”
“When you have to keep that pace up for two months instead of two weeks it’s tough to prepare yourself for it. You take in stride and try to learn as much as you can. You don’t want to look big picture or anything like that, but for some of us it’s just the first go-round or the second go-round.
“You try to be a sponge. You see the veterans doing their work. There are lots of things you can learn on the ice, but off the ice as well where the [veterans'] leadership qualities really get amplified around this time of year. It’s cool to see and you just try to learn as much as possible. You reflect and think about why those guys have as much success as they do, and what has made them such good leaders.”
Whether it was before Game 6 of the first round when the Bruins held a come-to-Jesus meeting to get all of their players playing the right way, or after the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final in which they were outshot 20-6, the B’s veterans have provided invaluable leadership. The Bruins outnumber the Blues 68-4 in Stanley Cup Final games played with Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and David Krejci all holding 13 Cup Final games played in their Bruins careers.
That is going to be a massive advantage over the Blues headed into Monday night, and it should continue to be something that will be a difference-maker between the two hockey clubs.
“I just believe that our guys that have been there, that have won a cup, have lost a cup, that should give us an edge,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Some people disagree with that once you're here, but I believe it will give us an edge. I think it's helped us a lot this week in the preparation, with all the down time, and hopefully going forward that is an advantage for us.”
Perhaps the best part of all of this, however, is the dividends it’s going to pay off for the Black and Gold over the years. The opportunity to win a Cup this early in their NHL careers is going to be the same formative experience for guys like DeBrusk, Carlo, McAvoy, Pastrnak, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari and Matt Grzelcyk as it was for Marchand, Krejci, Milan Lucic and Adam McQuaid back in 2011 when they all under 25 years old. Torey Krug had a similar experience back in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final when they fell a little short.
Getting to watch veterans like Chara, Bergeron, Krejci and Marchand march unfazed through these playoffs has been a key developmental piece for the young guys, and could be a key ingredient turning them into winning players for the rest of their careers.
“During this time, [they’ve told us] to just not overthink things. You can get ahead of yourself and start thinking about all of the possibilities and whatnot,” said Carlo. “They’ve done a really good job of letting us take a little time away from hockey and regroup as individuals mentally. We look forward to the challenge of starting and getting more excited.”
These young Bruins players are going to be the ones taking the torch next with Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, Chara, Tuukka Rask and others all on the other side of 30 years old, and that could be apparent as early as the next couple of weeks in the Cup Final. It’s certainly got them laser-focused and ready to go when the puck is dropped on Monday night.
“I’m soaking this up. I’m going through it for the first time," said McAvoy, who has a goal and seven points while averaging 24:20 of ice time in 16 games during these playoffs. "I was actually talking about it with [Bruins trainer] Donnie DelNegro and he was kind of making the joke, ‘Look at you. You’re just 21 years old and you’ve made it this far. You’re playing in the Stanley Cup Final at this age. For the rest of your career you’ll have this experience to look back on. Once you have these experiences you can go through anything as far as hockey goes.'
“So I’m very fortunate to be where I am right now and I’m trying to make the most of it from a playing standpoint. I’m going to give it everything in the world that I’ve got. I’ve got nothing to save it all for.”
The Bruins are sitting at the perfect intersection of the older, proven veteran core still capable of playing at a level worthy of a Stanley Cup Final and the "young guns” emerging to the point where they can be big factors for the Black and Gold on a big stage against the Blues. This may be their best chance to win a Cup with a combination of aging core players and a young wave of talent, as injuries and age are becoming an increasingly real factor.
But it’s also the turning point we may all look back on when the Bruins' younger generation really began taking a firm grasp on the reins, and started leading them on another extended run of success and winning that’s led them to three Cup Final appearances in the last eight seasons.
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