September 29, 2013

Like wounded bears, Bruins remain a force to be feared

Last June's disappointing finish could provide added motivation for a strong team with key additions.

By HOWARD ULMAN The Associated Press

BOSTON - The Boston Bruins came within two minutes of forcing a seventh game in the Stanley Cup finals. Now they must wait nearly seven months until the next postseason.

SEASON OPENER

WHO: Tampa Bay Lightning at Boston Bruins

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

TELEVISION: NESN

So close. And, now, so far away.

"It's got to be a fresh start," Coach Claude Julien said. "When you win the Cup, you've got to turn the page and say, 'We've got to do it all over again.' That doesn't change when you lose in the finals. We've got to turn the page and create ourselves another opportunity."

With the core returning and several key additions, the Bruins should reach the playoffs for the seventh straight season. And they took steps to secure their long-term future by signing center Patrice Bergeron and goalie Tuukka Rask to eight-year contracts and General Manager Peter Chiarelli to a four-year extension.

"We want to compete for the Stanley Cup every year," Chiarelli said. "And it's my mandate, my charge, to do that."

The Bruins made a strong run in last season's finals as they went after their second championship in three years. They led Chicago 2-1 in Game 6, then allowed two goals in the last 76 seconds and the Blackhawks won 3-2 to take the Cup.

Boston finished 11th in goals scored, then lost first-line right wing Nathan Horton to free agency and traded right wing Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. But they replaced them with two accomplished scorers, signing Jarome Iginla as a free agent and obtaining Loui Eriksson in the Dallas deal.

"It's important every once in a while to get some fresh faces in," Julien said, "and continue to create that excitement of being competitive and wanting to win every year."

Here are five things to watch as the Bruins prep for their opener Thursday vs. Tampa Bay:

CLAUDE'S CLUB: Julien has led the Bruins to the playoffs in each of his six seasons, repeatedly quieting talk that his job security is shaky. He is the third longest tenured coach in the NHL. Genial and reluctant to grab the spotlight, he has led Boston's disciplined style and won 62.7 percent of his regular-season games with Boston.

"He came off of being fired twice and there were a lot of questions about him," Chiarelli said. "So, obviously, I knew what he was like -- receptive to things so he could evolve with the rest of us."

BACK IN ACTION: Bergeron is one of the best two-way centers in the NHL. Gregory Campbell is a solid checker as the fourth-line center. Now, both are back after being injured in the playoffs. Bergeron played some games against Chicago with torn rib cartilage, a broken rib and a separated shoulder. He also learned after playing Game 6 that he had a collapsed lung. Campbell broke his right leg in Game 3 of Boston's four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern finals.

Z MARKS THE SLOT: As if his slap shot wasn't enough of a threat, now 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara is planting himself in front of the net on power plays. He did that in Monday's 3-2 overtime win over the Washington Capitals in which he also scored on two slap shots.

"He creates some havoc in front of there," Julien said. "Z's not just in front to screen, Z's in there for more than that."

Chara is adjusting to the tactic, but his long reach and big body provide a big target for deflections and tip-ins.

IGGY AND LOUI: Iginla and Eriksson combined for 26 goals in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, so their offensive abilities should make up for the departures of Horton and Seguin, who totaled 28 goals last season. Iginla has 530 goals in 16 seasons, while Eriksson has 150 in seven. Iginla also had two goals in the first preseason game.

"You can tell they have that swagger and that confidence that it's a really good club," Iginla said. "It's fun to join that."

YOUNG DEFENSE: Knowing they had talented young defensemen, the Bruins let 13-year veteran Andrew Ference leave for Calgary as a free agent. Dougie Hamilton, 20, Torey Krug, 22, and Matt Bartkowski, 25, all could play more on a solid backline that includes veterans Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid. With Rask, 26, coming off an outstanding first season away from former teammate Tim Thomas, the Bruins could be just as stingy as last season when they allowed 109 goals, third fewest in the NHL.

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