Monday, March 10, 2014
BOSTON — The Bruins take the ice Saturday for the long-delayed start of the 2013 NHL season.
WHO: Bruins vs. New York Rangers
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: TD Garden
They'll line up against the New York Rangers in a matchup of Original Six clubs who feel they've got what it takes to hoist the Cup in June.
No team won more games a year ago than the Rangers, who edged Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
New York won 51 games last season, a feat that will be impossible to duplicate in the truncated campaign that's about to start.
As we all know there are only 48 games to play this year – a 3 1/2-month sprint to the regular-season finish that features the opportunity of a four-point swing in every game played.
The Bruins bring back just about the entire roster from a team that went 49-29-4 to win the Northeast Division before being shocked in the first-round by the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals.
Last year, Pittsburgh was the only team in the league to average more goals per game than Boston.
The top nine scorers are back from that squad – and Nathan Horton is returning after missing the last three months of the season with ongoing post-concussion symptoms.
Tyler Seguin, still two weeks shy from legally being able to order a drink in the U.S., led the way offensively for the Bruins. It's safe to say he's poised for a breakout year.
He's a budding superstar who will lead an offense extremely deep down the middle with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Rich Peverly and Chris Kelly all able to handle center duties.
Under Claude Julien, the strength of this Bruins team is still its defense.
Led by captain Zdeno Chara, the Bruins allowed an average of just 2.43 goals per game last season, and the top five defensemen are back.
It could get a shot of youth if the team decides to keep top prospect Dougie Hamilton on the roster.
Hamilton was the top defenseman in Canadian major junior hockey last season and brings a rare combination of size, speed, and skill to the ice.
At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he could be an intriguing partner to the 6-foot-7 Chara on the Bruins blueline.
The Bruins will also be younger in net. "Tuukka Time" is here at last. Tuukka Rask, the 25-year old goaltender, will be the team's iron man this season, augmented by Anton Khudobin.
With Tim Thomas enjoying a self-imposed break from the game, Rask now has a chance to establish himself as an elite netminder.
He passed on a multi-year deal this off-season, signing a one-year contract and looking to use this one season as the opportunity to cement himself as Boston's goaltender of the future.
The Rangers know who their goalie of the future is. Henrik Lundqvist was one of the league's best last year and backstops the only team in the conference with a stingier defense than Boston in 2011-2012.
The Rangers had Stanley Cup dreams a year ago but were knocked out of the Eastern Conference semifinals by the upstart New Jersey Devils.
This year the Rangers expect to go further into the playoffs. This summer they added bona fide superstar Rick Nash, who has scored 30 or more goals in eight of his nine NHL seasons.
If Nash winds up alongside Brad Richards, the Rangers could have one of the most explosive offensive duos in the game.
Many experts are calling the Rangers the team to beat in these final days leading up to the season.
The Bruins believe they can be the team to beat them. They'll find out quickly how they stack up as the two teams play one another twice in the first five days of this season.
We've waited a long time for the hockey season to begin. Once it starts, we won't wait long to see who the Beast of the East is in 2013.
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.