BostonBruins.com - Many view it as a crutch. Some view it as a bad omen. Others few view it as a foreshadowing of good things to come.
On April 12, the Bruins clinched the Presidents' Trophy as the best regular season team. They finished with 54 wins, tied for second most in franchise history. For the first time since 1939-40, they never went more than two games without a win.
Since the award's inception in 1985-86, eight teams who have claimed it went on to win the Cup.
This "trophy" could place added pressure on the Bruins, as they head into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and face a first round series against the Detroit Red Wings who bring pedigree, Original Six tradition and resiliency to the matchup.
But the reality is, the Black & Gold have been faced with this pressure, and these high expectations, for a while. That escalated in 2011, and hit a pulse in 2013.
"It's the same type of pressure that we've had the last three years," said Milan Lucic. "I think there was pressure even to start this season, just making the Stanley Cup Final out of the East two out of the last three years."
Their consistency and ability to bounce back after any lapses throughout the season further proved that. Their 6-1 loss to Detroit on the eve of the Thanksgiving, and their bounce-back mentality in the aftermath, was one of those moments.
"It seems like obviously we were able to deal with that pressure real well and by going into these playoffs," Lucic said. "You just want to just remain focused and do what you need to do in order to help your team win."
Once the Bruins pushed the regular season aside, the real focus began.
"Now we’re onto our main goal and we’re going to have a lot of fun with it," Torey Krug said after Boston finished atop the League.
"No matter what you do in the regular season, you still have to play a certain way to be successful," said Captain Zdeno Chara. "It’s something that you want to follow up on, but you can’t be thinking now that you are going to get more room or more respect. It’s going to be even tougher."
That challenge begins with the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.
"We're very confident. We're excited for a challenge like this. To win the Stanley Cup, you've got to go through the best teams and we feel that Detroit is a great opponent," said Krug, who will be returning to his native Michigan next week, hoping to not make it a not-so-welcome visit for the team he grew up following.
"Moving forward, I think we're just going to stick to our guns and make sure we focus on ourselves."
There's a balance, though, of the confidence they need to have in their game, while making sure not to underestimate what the Wings can do, and have done to them before, after a 1-3-0 regular season series.
"You always want to play humble - but confident," said Krug. "At the same time, we've got to respect them - they're a great team, really deep and they have a lot of dangerous players."
"But we've got to play with that swagger, that confidence. That's what makes our team special, is when we rise up to the occasion and we use that confidence to our advantage."
That danger goes up a notch when a player like Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyquist, or a host of other fast and skilled Detroit forwards, hit the ice.
"Let’s not kid ourselves - I don’t know if people are playing Detroit as, you know, the underdog because of where we are in the standings," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "They’ve had a tough year with injuries but let’s not kid ourselves, they’re a real good team."
Julien knows the team well, with fellow Team Canada coach Mike Babcock at the helm. The pair helped lead Canada to Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia, and by now, know their respective teams' tendencies well, whether through video sessions, or through shared philosophies.
Both squads will have the edge, or neither have the edge, depending on how you look at it - but both will be ready to play.
"They’re well coached, they play hard every game, they’re going to be there," said Julien. "But at the same time, I think we need to understand if we’re willing to put the work in and play the way we think we can, there’s no doubt we’re giving ourselves a really good chance."
"But those things have to happen. They can’t just be talked about and right now, that’s what we got to do. We've got to go out there and show that we’re going to be ready and going to be willing to do those things that are going to give us success. But we’re going to have a tough opposition going against us."
Whether the Wings are being pegged as the underdog or not, the Bruins aren't underestimating the importance of a strong start at home.
"I think I heard that stat yesterday, 40 percent of the underdog teams have won the first round. That’s a pretty high number," said Julien, who has experienced three straight years of first round seven-game series.
"It just means that when you get into the playoffs, you’ve got sometimes one of the top teams playing against a team that has nothing to lose, and it just goes to show you what pressure does versus, 'we have nothing to lose and everything to gain - let’s just go out there and play.' And that mindset can have a real good effect on your team, whether it’s favorable or non-favorable."
In the past, Boston has "limped" into the postseason, as Julien termed it, and taken time to find their stride in the first round.
"I think this year, we just kept our team going and going," said Julien. "We’ve played pretty consistent and we hope that that’s going to be helpful for us there in that first round."
Helping that consistency, especially down the stretch of the regular season, was Jarome Iginla. Reaching his 12th straight 30-goal campaign amidst a full 82-game season, Iginla is primed for an opportunity to reach the one goal he has yet to achieve.
And no one had appreciated the process of it all more than Iginla.
"There's 30 teams, and only 16 make it, and you play all year for that - and that's for this opportunity, to have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup," said the veteran winger. "As it gets closer, you try to control the emotions and the excitement, and channel it the right way, but it is fun. It's always fun to play hockey in the NHL but playoffs are for real."
"Everybody wants to win…I know all the other guys, guys who have won before, they said it's addicting, you want to win again, and you want to be on top. That's why we play."
"But at the same time, it's a lot of work to be done from now until then."
Those in the Spoked-B will choose to narrow the picture, and focus on Friday's Game 1 at TD Garden against their Original Six opponent. With the regular season and the Presidents' in the past, so is their season series. Playoffs bring an entirely new level of intensity to the matchup.
"You know, you see each other a lot during the year and teams are the same," said Rask.
"It's just whoever wants it more."
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