The Bruins are back to playing meaningful hockey games for the first time in three and a half months on Thursday, although it likely feels like it's been no more than three and a half weeks for players and fans alike.
However, once the B's raise their sixth Stanley Cup banner to the TD Garden rafters, it's time to move on. Once the puck is dropped, the Cup celebration ends and the Cup defense begins.
The Bruins will return the majority of their 2010-11 squad, something that could go a long way in helping them become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 to win back-to-back Cups.
Therein lies much of the problem. It is really hard to repeat as Stanley Cup champs. If a team even makes it through the grind of the regular season with relative health, they still have to go through the playoff gauntlet where a bounce of the puck can make the difference between Duck Boats and golf carts.
Plus, can you really count on Tim Thomas providing another historical run through the playoffs?
Of course, fighting the pressures and odds of repeating as champs isn't the only thing standing in the Bruins' way. So is the rest of the league, particularly the rest of the Eastern Conference.
There are plenty of speed bumps in the road back to the Cup Final for the B's. You have to start at the top where Washington — with the addition of Tomas Vokoun — is still a force to be reckoned with. We say that every year, but until Alexander Ovechkin stops being one of the best players in the world, they're a perennial favorite.
Don't count out the Penguins, either. Even without Sidney Crosby, they're a pretty good team that can still make some noise, but it's starting to sound like he will be back, and maybe sooner than later.
Buffalo and Philadelphia have undergone pretty significant overhauls, and if they get good goaltending down the stretch (Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov can certainly provide that), no one will want to see either squad. There's still the Eastern Conference runner-up in Tampa Bay, a team full of good young talent seemingly ready to break through as well.