A year ago at this time you weren't expecting much from the Bruins. They'd bow out of the playoffs within a round or two or maybe three, and then you'd turn your attention to the Red Sox. Although the B's had won their division for the second time in three seasons, their run to the Stanley Cup came as a bit of a surprise to many.
The Bruins won't sneak up on anyone this spring. Beginning Thursday night vs. Washington, against whom Boston was 1-2-1 this season, expectations will be high. Here are five players sure to factor into the team's performance in one way or another:
Tyler Seguin - After going scoreless in the final 10 games of February, Seguin found the net seven times in March and added two more scores in the meaningless finale vs. Buffalo. The budding star had his moments in the playoffs last year (few can forget his out-of-nowhere, two-goal, two-assist effort in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals) and may be ripe for a breakout Stanley Cup playoffs performance, a la Brad Marchand last spring.
Tim Thomas - Too obvious? Maybe, but it is impossible not to mention the most important player on the ice, and the guy most responsible for the B's first Cup since 1972. Thomas got the rest he needed over the last couple of weeks of the season and is primed to stand tall once again. Repeating his performance from last spring will be next to impossible, but he ended on a very similar note. In Thomas's final eight games last season, he was 6-1-1 with a 1.48 GAA. This season? Try 6-1-1 with a 1.70 GAA.
David Krejci - The team's leading scorer during the Stanley Cup push, Krejci had an up-and-down regular season. He finished with a career-worst plus/minus of -5 and at one point in the second half of the season went nine games with just one point (an assist). However, like Seguin, Krejci caught fire once the calendar turned to March. Beginning with a hat trick on March 1, he had 10 goals and 11 assists in the final 21 games.
Johnny Boychuk - The most pressing health concern lies with Boychuk, the leader of the team's second defensive pairing. He sustained a left knee sprain April 3 against Pittsburgh and remains day-to-day. A key figure on the penalty kill, Boychuk is second to Zdeno Chara in plus/minus among Bruins defensemen, ranks second on the team in blocks and is fourth in hits. Boychuk appears to be on track to return for Game 1. Fellow defenseman Adam McQuaid (eye) is more of a question mark.
Brian Rolston - Rolston could be this year's Mark Recchi, a veteran who is used to the postseason grind. Since coming to Boston via a trade with the Islanders, the 39-year-old Rolston had three goals and 12 assists in 15 games. Remember, some fans wanted Recchi benched early in the '11 playoffs, but Claude Julien stuck with his veteran and it proved to be a binding factor. Rolston can provide a similar presence, perhaps on a slightly smaller scale. He lifted the cup years ago with New Jersey and has appeared in 70 playoff games in his career. That's a lot of facial hair.