With the drama of this year’s NHL lockout mercifully behind us, we can finally get back to talking about hockey. You know, the game they play on ice, with skates, sticks, and a six ounce chunk of vulcanized rubber? It seems as if we forgot about the heartbreaking finish to the 2011-2012 Boston Bruins season amidst the frustration of the ongoing CBA negotiations. Let me refresh your memory: The Bruins entered the calendar year 2012 as the hottest team in the NHL. They won 12 of their 13 games in the month of November, losing only to the Detroit Red Wings in a shootout on Black Friday. They followed up with another dominant month, going 9-3 in December. However, the team struggled towards the end of the season after losing back-up goalie Tuukka Rask to a groin injury in a game against the Islanders. Rask’s injury kept him out for a significant period of time, forcing head coach Claude Julien to play the aging Tim Thomas much more than he would have liked to heading into the post season. The rest, as they say, is history. Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby stole the show for the Washington Capitals, who won on a goal by Joel Ward in overtime of Game 7 to knock the defending Stanley Cup champions out of the playoffs in the first round.
Did you really need to re-live all of that? It pained me just to type it. However, we won’t have to live with the bitter taste of defeat for much longer. The Bruins are set to open up the shortened season at home against the New York Rangers on Saturday night. While the core of the team has remained intact, as it has for the last two or three years, some changes have occurred. Tim Thomas left the team for personal reasons, and the aforementioned Rask is now the Bruins’ starting goaltender. If you remember, Rask held the title of starting goalie during the 2010 playoff run, in which the 7th seeded Bruins defeated the second seeded Buffalo Sabres in six games, before falling to the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the second round. The reality is, the performance of Tuukka Rask will make or break the Bruins’ season Rask finished last season with a record of 11-8-3, and a goals-against-average of 2.05. Anton Khudobin will serve as Rask’s back up this season. Khudobin started one game for the Bruins last year, a 3-1 victory over Ottawa late in the season.
The top two forward lines should remain the same as they were last year, with David Krejci centering the top line between Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, who is finally healthy after a series of concussions dating back to the Stanley Cup Finals, and Selke trophy winner Patrice Bergeron manning the face-off dot between young guns Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin. Seguin is poised for a breakout year, after scoring 29 goals to go along with 38 assists en route to his first all star appearance last season. He scored 25 goals and had 15 assist in 29 games with Switzerland’s EHC Biel during the lockout. The only question as far as forwards are concerned is who will take the final wing spot on the third line, with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelley. Expect Chris Borque, son of one Raymond Borque (you may have heard of him), to start the season off as the final forward on the top three lines. This could change depending on the play of Borque, who scored two goals and added an assist in a scrimmage with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last night. Waiting in the wings are Jordan Caron, who recently suffered an upper body injury with Providence and will be out for awhile, and Ryan Spooner. Shawn Thornton, Dan Paille and Gregory Campbell will make up the B’s fourth line for the third straight season.
Zdeno Chara headlines the Bruins defense, and don’t be surprised to see him paired up with rookie Dougie Hamilton early. Hamilton is the top prospect in the Bruins organization and has been very impressive in camp. He could learn a lot by being on the ice with Chara, and this will also take a little bit of pressure off of the young blue liner as he starts his NHL career. The defensive pairings after that are really a toss up, as all of these guys have played on different combinations throughout the years. Dennis Seidenberg could be paired with Johnny Boychuk, while newcomer Aaron Johnson, who was acquired via free agency in July, could make up the third pairing with Andrew Ference. But your guess is as good as mine in that regard.
Continuity is always a good thing, and the Bruins will certainly have plenty of that this year. If this team stays healthy, expect a deep playoff run for the Black & Gold.