BOSTON, MA - Walking into the Bruins' locker room on Friday morning, there was a sense of calm confidence among the group, a composed intensity about their demeanor.
They knew what they had to do that morning, and this afternoon, and tonight, when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. ET (NESN, NBCSN, 98.5 The Sports Hub). And it shouldn't be all that different from what they've done all season; the stakes are just much, much higher.
Captain Zdeno Chara sat in his locker stall, surrounding by reporters. On the other side, Patrice Bergeron soon answered questions, with other Bruins sprinkled throughout the room, all expressing excitement of getting the series going.
A few stalls down from 'Big Zee,' Johnny Boychuk had his usual, carefree nature on display, with a red #StrikeOutALS ball cap on backwards.
The self-proclaimed kid at heart was ready for some playoff hockey, with his this-is-what-we-play-for type of attitude.
"We've been waiting for a weeks now. It's a good feeling to be here," said Boychuk. "You know, just thinking about guys going back home already [on other teams] - that's just crazy - and we're here, trying to pursue another Cup. Now, it's just an exciting time of year and the mentality is totally different."
No. 55 wasn't all too concerned about the white noise surrounding the team, which has been pegged as the favorites by many heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, following their Presidents' Trophy-winning season.
"In playoffs, it doesn't really matter. What you did in the regular season is out the window," said the veteran blueliner. "It doesn't count for anything right now, and that's the way you've got to look at it."
"We've got one opponent for the next four to seven games and we have to treat them as the Champions, because they're in our way to pursue our goal and we have to go through them to get to the Ultimate Goal."
That's how the Bruins are approaching the series; as an obstacle to surpass. Because, as anyone who watches this team night in and night out knows, the Black & Gold perform their best when they're challenged the most, and pushed the hardest.
"This team's a great team that we're playing against and it could have gone either way for the regular season. You have to respect them because they have a lot of firepower, a lot of speed, they're a good all-around team and they play good systems," said Boychuk. "We're just happy that we're going to be able to start playing again."
"Anything can happen in the playoffs. We’ve seen it many times before and I don’t expect that to change this year," cautioned Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien.
Boston knows the challenge of the first series firsthand; their past three first rounds have gone to seven games. The unpredictability is what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs so intensely unique.
"It's about taking it one game at a time and making sure that we play our best hockey, and just come out as a team and go from there," said Bergeron.
The focus in on "we" and "us," not "they" and "them." Nothing else should matter.
"I think that's something that we've talked about, even during the year, worrying about us and what's going on in this room and trying to get better as a team, and I think we've done a good job of that," said Bergeron. "And right now, it's about - you know, we have high expectations of ourselves - so it's not about worrying or spending time worrying about what's happening outside and what people are saying or talking about."
"It's about us, it's about making sure we're ready when the game starts."
"We never get comfortable," said Julien. "We’ve always talked about that. No matter what we’ve accomplished, we always know that the good things happen from hard work, so the minute we stop working hard and focusing on the areas we need to focus on, things can change. So that’s always been our approach."
"We had a few days before the playoffs and between last game and now, so I think everything's been done," said Chara, of the preparation. "And now, we just have to get ready, and be ready to play."
The room is full of plenty of veterans like Chara, Bergeron and Boychuk, who simply know what it takes. And for Bruins like Reilly Smith and Kevan Miller, who have never experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are set to make their NHL playoff debuts, the message is simple.
"Just play their game," said Bergeron. "There's a reason why they're here...You can't think too much out there; it's about following your instincts and that's what I'll tell them. They've been great all year."
"Just keep doing what you've been doing," was the message Bergeron planned to give them, as it was passed along to him in 2004 by Martin Lapointe, when he was about to make his own NHL playoff debut against Montreal.
A decade later, the Original Six opponent has changed from Montreal to Detroit, the team around Bergeron is vastly different, and the team's expectations are paramount. But the approach remains the same, for all in the Spoked-B.
"It comes down to playing hockey."
The rest will take care of itself.
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