BOSTON - Patrice Bergeron knows opponents will get fired up to beat the Stanley Cup champions. That's what he did when he faced the team that won the title before his Boston Bruins.
Targeting the NHL's best is just a natural response.
"When I was playing Chicago, I was ready for that game," the Bruins alternate captain said at the opening of training camp Friday. "I wanted to beat them because they were the defending champs, and I know all the other 29 teams are going to think the same way. They're going to try to beat us, so we need to make sure we're ready for that and make sure were ready for a big year."
The Bruins beat the Blackhawks 3-0 in their only meeting last season, with Bergeron assisting on the first goal.
But one year after winning their first Cup in 49 years, the Blackhawks didn't clinch a playoff spot until the final day of the regular season—then were eliminated in the first round.
The Bruins won their first title in 40 years and know a letdown is possible. They're well aware of the "Stanley Cup hangover" that could pose a problem.
"I think you kind of tackle those challenges as they come, and you don't know if they're going to come at all or if they're going to happen two weeks in or not," defenceman Andrew Ference said. "It's one of those things that you have on the radar and you talk openly about. We have a very open team.
"The first hurdle is just having a group of people that you can be honest with, brutally sometimes, and you can kind of nip things like that in the bud."
Instead of resting on their achievement, the desire to build on it might be an even more powerful force.
"After you win the Stanley Cup, you want it that much more," said forward Brad Marchand, who agreed to a two-year, US$5 million contract on Wednesday. "Having that feeling is one very few people get to understand and achieve, and now that we've kind of reached that we want it over and over again."
The Bruins lost just three players who were regulars in the playoffs—forwards Mark Recchi to retirement and Michael Ryder to free agency and disappointing defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who they chose not to re-sign. They added forward Benoit Pouliot from the Montreal Canadiens and defenceman Joe Corvo from the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Blackhawks had much greater turnover after winning their title.
The Bruins "did so well last year and they didn't really change a lot of the lineup," Pouliot said. "If I can fit in there with the other guys that joined the team, it's going to be perfect. But, for me, it's just jumping in there, finding a spot, finding a spot comfortably, not messing anything up and just play my game."
Overconfidence might not be a problem because of how close the Bruins came to being eliminated in the first round. They lost the first two games against the Canadiens then squeaked out a 4-3 win in Game 7 on Nathan Horton's overtime goal.
After sweeping Philadelphia, the Bruins had another seven-game series with Tampa Bay. They won the finale 1-0 on Horton's goal with 7:33 remaining in the third period.
"I think everybody's smart enough to look at the way the playoffs were won—a bounce here, a bounce there, a goal, the little differences between us talking about a first round exit or a Stanley Cup (championship)," Ference said. "That's just the way hockey is. It's tight like that every year."
The Bruins won the Cup on June 15, beating the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 in Game 7. That didn't leave much time for them to rest up and work on their conditioning.
But coach Claude Julien was pleased with his players' performance on fitness tests conducted Friday, a week after rookies reported and a day before the entire team practices.
"When you've only got a couple of months off," he said, "I don't think they had time to get out of shape too much."
Most players probably took two weeks off after the season, Ference said. Marchand said he began preparing for training camp about July 3.
"If I'm sitting around for too long, I feel lazy and I don't feel good," he said. "So, I have to stay active."
He won't have much time to rest once the season starts on Oct. 6 with a home game against the Flyers, the first team with a chance to beat the Bruins.
But as the games progress, the motivation to beat the champs will give way to knocking off the top teams in the current season, Ference said.
"The first little bit you'll carry around the tag, I think, as defending champs, but that only lasts for probably a couple of weeks until the standings start to get settled out," he said, "and then everybody guns for the top teams."
The Bruins would like to remain in that group, so Julien wants them to focus on the upcoming season, not the last one.
"The summer's been a great summer. It's been a lot of fun," he said. "But, for us, it's time to turn the page and get back to work."
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