- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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Repeat: The Boston Bruins will beat the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in seven games.
When the puck drops in Game 1 on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Bruins believe this could be their year to finally break through to the other side, which around these parts is known as the conference finals.
General manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien both recently said that if the Bruins advance past the second round, it will be considered a successful season.
Bogus. Why settle for that? A trip to the conference finals means nothing, except maybe job security for the GM and coach.
The Bruins need to win the Eastern Conference and reach the Stanley Cup finals to call this season a success. It would be the ultimate if Boston is able to hoist the Cup on Causeway Street.
There's a positive feeling within the dressing room, and the Bruins believe this could be a special season. There's a long way to go and they're focused only on Game 1, as they should be, but the ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup and nothing less.
To reach to the Stanley Cup finals, there are a lot of factors that need to fall into place. First, a team needs a little luck. Second, a team will need to rely on players it usually doesn't. The best players need to be at their best, and goaltending needs to be almost perfect.
No doubt it's a grind.
The Bruins are confident, knowing it's going to be a hard-fought series. Boston had the potential to go deep a season ago, but it failed miserably in a historic collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Bruins haven't forgotten what that felt like last spring, and they don't believe there will be a repeat performance.
Boston assistant captain Mark Recchi decided to return for his 23rd season in the NHL with the Bruins this season because he believes this team has a chance to hoist the Cup and bring a championship back to this hockey hot bed for the first time since 1972.
"It's a long way to go, but we all believe in each other," Recchi said. "Whether there's a good story at the end or a bad story, we'll find out. We really believe in what we're doing, and that's all you can do. The past is the past, and we're looking toward the future and that's the important thing."
The Bruins put themselves in a good spot, finishing first in the Northeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference. They have the goaltending in Tim Thomas. Boston is big, physical and strong.
The Canadiens have a lot of strengths, too, including finesse, quickness and solid goaltending with Carey Price. But if the Bruins stick to playing their style of game with that physical presence, it will be Boston that advances to the semifinals.
Discipline will remain a major factor for the Bruins, too. They can't allow the Canadiens, their fans or the atmosphere at the Bell Centre get to them. Boston needs to keep its emotions in check.
A few intangibles also will be key for Boston. The chemistry in the room is a big factor, and the Bruins are a tight group.
Case in point: During Wednesday's final practice at Ristuccia Arena in preparation for Game 1, Julien kept the session short and sweet. During the 30-minute workout, the players were active and jovial at the same time.
The Bruins are relaxed and focused.
"The fun part will certainly give you the energy you want in the playoffs," Julien said. "Being tense will not help our situation. Every team that has won it in the past has always talked about how much fun it was. It's not a big secret. It's important you go out there and enjoy the process of the playoffs because you've worked hard all year to get there."
To be successful in the playoffs, special teams always play a crucial role. While Boston's penalty-killing unit is solid, its power play is suspect. The Bruins finished No. 20 in the league on the power play, with their penalty kill slightly better at No. 16. Montreal, however, has the edge in this category, finishing seventh and eighth on the penalty kill and power play, respectively.
If the power play is the only weakness the Bruins have, they're in good shape, as long as they can improve it in some way.
The Bruins can't think about what history indicates. Forget the regular-season records. The Bruins are feeling good about themselves right now, as should the Canadiens. It's going to be an entertaining series, one that should end with Boston on top.
Repeat: should end with Boston on top.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.