BOSTON – Drop the puck.

On Thursday night the Bruins will hoist the 2011 Stanley Cup championship banner at TD Garden. It will be an emotional ceremony, with highlights of an improbable run that ended a 39-year drought.

The timing couldn’t be better.

After a stunning collapse to the Red Sox season last week and Friday’s press conference ending Terry Francona’s reign as the most successful manager in team history, we can use a sports diversion around here.

The Patriots did their part over the weekend, coming out of Oakland with a surprisingly easy 31-19 victory over the Raiders.

Even that win came with a high price tag. Jerod Mayo, the heart and soul of the Pats’ defense, went down with a knee injury.

The defense struggled with Mayo, entering Week 4 giving up the most rushing and passing yards in the league.

Without him, New England will be put to the test in the weeks ahead.

The Celtics aren’t going to get our mind off the greatest collapse in baseball history any time soon.

The NBA is mired in a lockout that has been ugly from the start, and doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.

So the stage is set for the Bruins to capture the hearts of New England again.

The did it last June when captain Zdeno Chara let out a scream and hoisted the most famous trophy in sports.

Can they do it again this season?

No team has won back-to-back Cups since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1997-98. There’s a reason for that.

In recent years, teams have been assembled to contend, then ripped apart shortly after as growing contracts threaten to rip apart the league’s salary cap.

But that isn’t the case with these Bruins.

General Manager Peter Chiarelli has done a terrific job keeping the Bruins’ core together after the confetti settled. In fact, this might be the first time in years that a defending champ returns as an even better team a year later.

In hockey, championship dreams begin and often end with goaltending.

The Bruins are in great shape here. Tim Thomas won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender last year, and added a Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP.

Incredibly, he was the backup at this point last season. Tuukka Rask is still a young goalie but now has the experience to join Thomas in the league’s best goaltending tandem.

On defense, the Bruins return without Tomas Kaberle. Some would call that addition by subtraction.

Joe Corvo was brought in to replace him with a bit more aggression, a bit more edge. If he does that, this group of defensemen should be solid.

Up front, the team lost Mark Recchi to retirement and Michael Ryder to the Dallas Stars. They added Benoit Pouliot to the mix.

Pouliot has been an enigmatic underachiever with the Minnesota Wild and Montreal Canadiens, but has the tools to succeed.

With limited expectations, he could get a chance to thrive in Coach Claude Julien’s system.

The biggest addition to the forward lines could be youth. We caught a glimpse of Tyler Seguin’s ability in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers. Now we’ll see much more of this 19-year-old in his second season.

The shackles should be off the kid, and he could be one of the team’s most dynamic players by midseason.

Jordan Caron also has been impressive in training camp, showing a bit of grit. He stuck with the team last fall and played 23 games. His second trip through the NHL should last longer.

All in all, there’s plenty of reasons for Bruins fans to be optimistic about the coming season.

It’s a very nice diversion for those of us who are trying to forget about the events of the last week.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.