BOSTON — It wasn't always pretty and it wasn't the most consistent season, but after an early season hangover, a near-perfect November and an excruciating January, the Bruins are finally back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While every game this season was approached with an equal dosage of excitement and importance, the B's can finally admit that this is what they've been looking forward to. After all, these are the Stanley cup champs and they're a team that faced and flourished in hockey's two most important Game 7s just last season.
Needless to say, they've got the playoff itch.
"This is when the important season starts," said sophomore sniper and team-leader in goals, Tyler Seguin. "If you’re a hockey player and a competitive guy, this is when you get real excited. I know myself, I know the guys try not to think about it, try not to think about the week ahead before tonight’s game, but you can’t lie it was all in our heads and playoffs are right around the corner. We’re all excited."
Seguin, who suited up for the Eastern Conference finals and Stanley Cup finals last year, introduced himself to postseason hockey with a bang, bagging six points in his first two career playoff games against the Lightning. That was after he was watching from high above the ice during the first two rounds against the Canadiens, and Flyers, respectively.
He would go on to notch just one more point (an assist) in the next 12 games before hoisting the Cup, but Seguin doesn't want to change a thing from last year's experience.
"I think experience helped me a lot last year playing a couple of Game 7s and a Stanley Cup final Game 7 — that’s going to go a long way," he explained, when asked about what he can take into this year's postseason.
"When I played my first game last year in the playoffs, [it] was just the atmosphere of the game," he said when asked about how the playoffs were different from the regular season. "It’s the intensity, the speed or even the crowd — especially at the Garden — it gets pretty loud. I don’t know if it makes you nervous, or a little bit more intense, but it was a little new so that was the first thing I noticed last year."
One thing that will be different this time around for the B's is that they're the ones everyone is gunning for. Sure, the Rangers and Penguins may be favored to take the East this year, but until the Cup gets raised this Summer, the Bruins are the champs. The team's been playing with that mentality and dealing with that pressure all season long.
"We kind of had a target on our back all year. We’re the team that teams will go up and say, ‘This is our measuring stick this year so far,’ and last year when we played Chicago, they were our measuring stick in the regular season."
That big, shiny target on their backs didn't make things easy for the Black and Gold. That, and injuries made it tough for the B's to maintain consistency and cruise into the postseason. Things were rocky early, in the middle, and even somewhat lately when they hit an early March slump.
Getting over those slumps was one thing and patching together a hot streak was another. The B's were able to do both and after Saturday's shootout win over the Sabres, Seguin is hoping that the team has hit its stride at just the right time. He's hoping they can build off Saturday's win and ride that emotion into hockey's "important season."
"It was nice in the third period to see us show character like we might have to do down the road in the playoffs, said Seguin, whose two goals gave him 29 on the year. "We’re a confident group in here — we know if we’re going out there only worrying about what our personal jobs are, not the guy next to us, as a team we’re going to do a good job. If you’re worried about going in who you’re playing, or who’s ahead of you in the standings during the season, it’s not how you win games in the playoffs."
And if there's one thing the B's proved in last year's playoffs, it's that they know how to win when it counts.