It turns out they won't need their passports in the first round after all.
After looking like a clash with the club from Canada's capital in Ottawa was going to be Boston's fate, the final day of the regular season produced a different result. Ottawa lost 4-2 in New Jersey and the Capitals beat the Rangers 4-1 in New York, boosting Washington over the Senators and into seventh place in the East. Washington could have moved up even further and allowed Ottawa back into seventh, but Florida beat Carolina 4-1 to hold on for the Southeast Division title and third seed.
So that leaves Washington coming to Boston to face the second-seeded Bruins in the opening round, with the best-of-seven series expected to begin Thursday.
With that knowledge, the real work begins as the Bruins get set to embark on their defense of the Cup.
"We’re off [Sunday] — that's the players, not the coaching staff," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over the Sabres but before the results of the other games were known. "The minute we find out our opponents, we start doing the video work and cutting, which we've already done some of it, but depending on some changes along the way. Obviously there's two teams. It's either Ottawa or Washington, so we've got a lot of that work done, and when it's solidified, then we're going to start. We're going to finish it up, and by Monday, we should be on top of things."
The Bruins didn't know who their opponent would be after they rallied for their win over Buffalo in the regular-season finale, but they also weren't too concerned about the matchup. Fine-tuning their own play for the challenge ahead was the focus for the reigning champs.
"It doesn't matter at all," forward Milan Lucic said. "There's a good saying, 'In order to be the best, you got to beat the best.' So, you know it doesn't matter who you play or who's on the other side. It's about who's in this room and how we’re going to play, so we're committed to that and that's our main focus right now."
The Bruins also knew they were going to be tested by whomever they meet in the first round.
"We can't worry about who we are going to play because we know both teams are going to be great teams," center Patrice Bergeron said. "It's going to be hard games, hard-fought games, and going into the playoffs, you know what's at stake, and I mean, every game is going to be a battle. And I mean, we have the experience from that last year and we just need to go out there and not wishing any opponent. We just got to out there and worry about ourselves and just make sure we are ready for a tough series."
Based on the regular season, the Caps may present the Bruins with a tougher series. Boston was just 1-2-1 against Washington this season, while going 5-1-0 against Ottawa. But regular-season results often mean little in the playoffs, and the Capitals are dealing with injuries to both of their top two goalies, Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth.
The Bruins, meanwhile, are getting healthier, with Johnny Boychuk expected to return for the start of the playoffs from a knee injury. The status of Tuukka Rask (abdominal/groin injury) and Adam McQuaid (eye) is still uncertain, though. Boston also snapped out of its midseason swoon to finish strong, building momentum down the stretch with a 9-2-1 mark in its final dozen games.
"I think this is definitely what everyone has been waiting for, to get back to," Lucic said. "I think for tonight and for now, we can just reflect and kind of enjoy what we accomplished here in the season, and, as long as it seemed at times, it feels like yesterday that we just won. So, it kind of went by real quick, so obviously, we did a great job at getting ourselves back in a position where we get that home ice advantage in the first round, and I think everyone in this dressing room should be proud of what we accomplished in the season."
The Bruins accomplished plenty with a second-straight 100-point campaign, as they finished with 49 wins and 102 points. But that will all be quickly forgotten now that the real season has arrived, and that’s just fine by the Bruins, who will try to repeat as Cup champs for the first time since Detroit won in 1997 and 1998.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Lucic said. "Obviously, it hasn't been done in a while, but we're not looking at the big picture here right now. Like I said, we're going to enjoy tonight and what we accomplished for the season, and we know, because we've been through it, we got to take everything one game at a time. There’s no better time to play hockey than this time of year. As you can tell by my smile, I'm excited for it."
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