Today is the day and tonight is the night that NHL hockey is finally back and I fully expect it to come back with a bang.
The Boston Bruins open their condensed 48-game regular season NHL schedule at home against the improved New York Rangers on Saturday night at 7PM EST and it should be a heck of a game as both teams have been popular Stanley Cup champion picks by many.
The Rangers added NHL superstar Rick Nash in the offseason and he joins an already talented group of forwards that includes Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Ryan Callahan.
On defense the Rangers aren’t any slouches either with guys like Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto. Oh by the way, if you’re lucky enough to get by all these guys there is only all-world goaltender and perennial Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist waiting to stone your every shot like the brick wall he is.
There’s a reason the Rangers finished 1st in the Eastern Conference last year and with the addition of a player like Nash, it’s easy to see why they’re picked by many to be the last team standing.
I previewed the Bruins roster on Friday and nothing has changed headed into tonight’s game. Tuukka Rask will get the start between the pipes and he should be plenty motivated to stop the talented Rangers. Rask is on a one-year deal and is looking to show the B’s and the league that he is without a doubt an unquestioned #1 goalie for the B’s and in the NHL. He is also attempting to step out from behind the shadow of Tim Thomas and show that just because Thomas is gone, doesn’t mean the B’s are any worse for the wear in net.
The blue-line is one of the B’s greatest strengths, anchor and captain Zdeno Chara, looks to improve on last year’s season where he set career highs in assists and points while tying his career high for +/-. Big Z is always in the running for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman and I expect this year to be no different. He is joined by youngster Dougie Hamilton who will get at least 5 games to show the B’s what he can bring to the table this season. Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg are all proven commodities and this group should once again be a strength for the B’s as they are usually in the running for least goals allowed in the league.
Upfront for the B’s I expect to see a lot of the Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand line and a healthy dose of the B’s 3rd and 4th lines that includes Chris Bourque, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille. The B’s are one of the few teams in the league that can roll all four lines and I fully expect them to do that during this condensed season and it should allow Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic to get up to game speed and hopefully those two, combined with David Krejci, can be the top line the B’s need them to be.
It should be a packed house at the Garden tonight in Boston as this is a hockey town and the people of this city have been kept from their beloved Big, Bad Bruins long enough. It will be loud from start to finish, I fully expect a playoff game-like atmosphere. If it’s not I’ll be disappointed.
Traditionally games between the B’s and Rangers have been low-scoring and tightly contested affairs. I’m anticipating that to change a bit tonight as both teams are stacked up front and we should be seeing some sloppy and wide-open hockey as every team in the league looks to get their feet underneath them after only a week of training camp and no preseason games. Of course the opposite could happen but with the talent on these two teams I’d be shocked if we didn’t see some fireworks.
Finally, I’d be even more shocked if we didn’t see a minimum of 2-3 fights. Hockey is back in Boston tonight and the B’s will want to give their fans a show (they usually do regardless of the night). They’ll also want to show the Rangers that they aren’t afraid of them, won’t back down from them and they’ll want to show the blue-shirts what it is and what it will be like to play against the Bruins this year. Good old fashioned smash-mouth hockey, it brought the B’s to promised land in 2011 and could be the key that gets them back there this season.
Final score prediction: Bruins win 5-3 with an empty-netter and two goals from Seguin.