For some, it couldn't come soon enough, and for others it seems like just yesterday. But ready or not, the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Thursday in what promises to be another exciting and promising postseason push.
Especially for the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
"Well, I think this is definitely what everyone has been waiting for, to get back to," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "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."
Ten months and 28 days after Zdeno Chara and the rest of the team hoisted the Stanley Cup in Vancouver, the Bruins thirst again to drink from the Cup, and nothing else besides raising it again will quench that thirst.
The B's have some new faces, but plenty of old ones too. Some young ones stepped up to take hold when they needed to, and some of the "old faithfuls" have been there to take on a support role. So what's stopping them?
The B's drew the Washington Capitals in the first round, playing a best-of-seven series against Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the team that barely clinched the seventh seed in the final game of the regular season. And yet they fell to those same Caps three of the four times this season, including the two most recent meetings.
However, there's one thing the Bruins have that the Capitals don't, and that's Brad Marchand. The "little ball of hate" has scored in three of the games against Washington, and has been one of the most consistent players against that team. He finished the regular season second on the team in goals scored with 28, sitting just behind Tyler Seguin (29).
Tim Thomas will lead the Bruins into the fire of playoffs, with the determination fans have become so accustomed to seeing. He enters the series against the Capitals with a 1-1-1 record this season and a .917 save percentage. While backup Tuukka Rask has been logging some ice time and taking shots, it's unsure when he will be ready to come back, in which case the Bruins would rely on Anton Khudobin for backup duties.
But perhaps the biggest story between these two teams heading into the first series is the matchup of Chara and Ovechkin -- the clashing of two different kinds of titans. Ovechkin has done well for his team this year, as he scored 17 more goals than any other of his teammates, and picked up 65 points -- 11 more than the closest player.
"Chara takes pride in shutting down Ovechkin, so I think obviously you’re going to see that matchup," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said. "They have some good skill, some real good shooters and it’s important to keep those guys on the outside inside. So, there’s a preliminary game plan for you."
The Bruins captured the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and therefore picked up home-ice advantage for the first round. They will play the first two games at home in Boston on Thursday, April 12, and Saturday, April 14 and then head to Washington for the following Monday, April 16 and Thursday, April 19.
But the question has to be asked. How does winning the Stanley Cup last year fit into preparing for this year's run towards a repeat?
"You can never underestimate the value of the experience," Chairelli said. "I’ve seen that grow with our group, and I’ve detailed a couple of those things you bundle together and it forms experience and I’ve seen those things surface. We’ve gained a lot from winning the cup. Having said all that, it’s real tough to repeat so its going to be a challenge.
"Past champs have entered into the playoffs, so we’re just going to take it day-to-day and game-to-game."