- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- If you look very closely at the Stanley Cup, you'll notice the names on the sacred chalice have been stitched with a needle and thread like a trainer stitching up a team's captain in between periods.
OK, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but it's not far from the truth.
Of course, spectacular goaltending is a big reason why teams are successful in the playoffs, but those players who can resist the discomfort and skate through the pain that normal people (even other pro athletes) would cringe at, have what it takes to become champions.
When the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers begin their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Saturday (12:30 p.m.) at TD Garden, the Bruins will be the healthier team. Because the Flyers dismissed the New Jersey Devils in five games, Philadelphia will have had a total of eight days off between games. Boston will have had only four.
"That's huge. That's the key," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "If you look at the teams that have won [the Stanley Cup] it's because they were able to remain healthy throughout the playoffs. Obviously, these last couple of days of rest have been key for us, and their series ended before ours, so they're rested up and ready to go."
Bruins coach Claude Julien decided it would benefit the team if they had the "black aces" practice with the Bruins. With those players called up from Providence of the AHL as extra skaters, it gave Boston five lines, nine defensive pairings and three goaltenders to utilize.
"We've created an environment where the guys who are playing a lot have an opportunity to get some rest and not be overtaxed in practice," Julien said. "We've created that for a reason."
That has been especially important for rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. In the two days leading up to Game 6 of the quarterfinal series against the Buffalo Sabres, the Bruins had Providence goaltender Dany Sabourin practicing with Boston in order to give Rask a breather.
That strategy is not unique to the Bruins. That practice is the norm for teams in the playoffs.
Fortunately for the Bruins, they were able to come out of their first-round series without losing any players to injury.
"Before the series we lost a lot of guys, but it's something that all the teams are going through," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. "It is nice to get through one series with all the guys and get ready for the second round."
Sure, the team suffered some key injuries down the stretch of the regular season to forward Marc Savard (concussion) and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg (lacerated forearm tendon) and Mark Stuart (hand infection), but the Bruins were able regroup and conquer the Sabres.
"You never come out of a playoff series 100 percent intact because that would mean lack of involvement," Julien said. "I would stand here and say that our team is in really good shape for having been through the first round. The little bumps and bruises are all things we can manage. Our guys are obviously in much better shape than we were at the end of the second round last year. We were a pretty banged-up team, but this time we're ready for Round 2."
Last May, during the series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Bruins veteran Mark Recchi needed emergency surgery between Games 6 and 7 to remove a kidney stone and was back on the ice with very little public knowledge of the procedure. Also, Bruins forward David Krejci played through a torn labrum in his hip and needed offseason surgery. And forward Phil Kessel, who was traded to Toronto last September, needed shoulder surgery after that series.
Those injuries were a major reason why the Bruins did not advance. This season the Bruins are healthy going into the second round; being able to stay that way will be a major boost.
"Everyone is feeling good right now and everyone's energy is where it needs to be and everyone's emotion is where it needs to be, so hopefully we can apply that come Game 1," Lucic said.
The Flyers, however, are dealing with injuries to some of their key players.
Philadelphia forward Ian Laperriere suffered a brain contusion and a mild concussion after he was hit above his right eye with a slap shot in the Flyers' 3-0 victory over the Devils in Game 5 of the quarterfinals. There was blood scattered all over the ice after the puck struck him. Because of his injuries, his season is likely over.
That crushing blow to the Flyers' lineup is only the beginning.
Philadelphia forwards Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter both suffered right-foot injuries in Game 4 of the quarterfinals and needed surgery to repair the damage late last week. According to a statement released by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, Carter is out indefinitely and Gagne could return to action in three weeks, but that might be too late.
While the Flyers are dropping like flies, the Bruins are adding players to their lineup.
Savard will make his long-awaited return on Saturday. His playing time will likely be limited, but his addition will be welcomed. Also, Stuart started skating on Thursday for the first time since April 1. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said he doesn't expect Stuart to be back for this series, but it was a good sign to see him on the ice.
As far as health is concerned, the Bruins are better situated for the upcoming series.
"We were fortunate enough not to lose anybody in that first round, and getting Savvy back for the second round is definitely key," said Bruins forward Daniel Paille. "I think everybody is pretty confident and we're willing to battle through anything, whether it's minor or huge."
Even if injuries arise in the playoffs, the players who can battle through them give their team a better chance at succeeding.
"You always find ways," Lucic said. "There're a lot of things you can do to help you overcome that. You've just got to dig deep and find a way to push through that."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
The Bruins are as healthy as they've been all season -- and feel good about it.