Bruins begin defense of East title vs. Lightning

10:03 AM, Oct 3, 2013   |    comments
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( - The defending Eastern Conference champions will open the 2013-14 season on home ice, as the Boston Bruins welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning for Thursday's battle at TD Garden.

Thursday's contest is the first divisional matchup between the Lightning and Bruins, who both play in the Atlantic Division thanks to the onset of realignment. Boston dominated the Lightning during the 2013 season, winning all three meetings while allowing Tampa to score a total of four goals.

The Bruins, who won a Stanley Cup in 2011, returned to the final round of the playoffs last spring before losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Considering the Bruins came within two wins of claiming their second championship in three years, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli was expected to make few changes to his roster in the offseason but he wound up doing the opposite. The Bruins traded away the likes of Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas and also watched as other players like Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr and Anton Khudobin left for free agency.

Chiarelli did make up for the loss of Jagr by signing veteran winger Jarome Iginla to a one-year, $6 million contract over the summer. That came after Iginla drew the ire of Boston fans by choosing Pittsburgh over the Bruins at the 2013 trade deadline.

Getting another winger -- Loui Eriksson -- from Dallas in the Seguin deal also could help spark an offense that ranked 13th in the NHL in scoring during the 2013 regular season.

With Tuukka Rask between the pipes, Zdeno Chara on the blue line and head coach Claude Julien behind the bench, the Bruins expect to return to the playoffs for a seventh straight year in 2013-14, but time will only tell if the roster overhaul helps them make another trip to the Cup Finals or not.

"I think we're still a great team and have a lot of potential," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron told his team's website. "It's a long season like we all know and we have to make sure we do the right thing. It's so cliche but it's still the same thing again, you have to start all the way back down the mountain and climb our way back up, so that's the way we have to look at it."

The Lightning, meanwhile, will try to get this season off to a good start after missing out on the playoffs for a second straight spring in 2013. One big reason Tampa failed to qualify for the postseason last season was the club only managed to go 6-16-2 in road games during the lockout-shortened campaign.

Tampa Bay heads into this season with a new captain in longtime winger Martin St. Louis, who was recently named as the replacement for the departed Vincent Lecavalier.

"Marty embodies everything a captain should be," said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. "The captaincy is one of the highest honors in hockey and Marty is well-deserving."

Lecavalier, the first overall pick in the 1998 draft, had spent his entire career in Tampa before having his contract bought out by GM Steve Yzerman and the Lightning front office during the offseason. The departure of Lecavalier, who went on to sign a five-year deal with Philadelphia last summer, leaves St. Louis as the only player left from the franchise's one and only Stanley Cup championship victory in 2004.

With St. Louis, who led the NHL in scoring with 60 points in 48 games last season, and sniping centerman Steven Stamkos leading the offensive attack, the Lightning will be a dangerous scoring team once again. Stamkos had 29 goals during the shortened season, leaving him behind only Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the NHL's goal-scoring crown.

However, the Bolts finished third in the NHL in offense with an average of 3.06 goals per game in 2013, but the club also surrendered 3.05 goals per contest and that brutal defensive effort is what led to Tampa finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference standings.

Yzerman and Cooper, who had the interim tag removed from his title during the offseason, hope the team defense or goaltending can improve in 2013-14.

During last season, Yzerman traded forward Cory Conacher to Ottawa in exchange for goaltender Ben Bishop and he is expected to split time in net this season with Anders Lindback.

Oft-injured Lightning forward Ryan Malone, who played in only 24 games last season, battled an upper-body injury during the preseason, but is expected to play on Thursday.

Boston forward David Krejci, who was named an alternate captain by Boston earlier this week, is questionable for Thursday's game due to back spasms. Krejci led Boston with 26 points in 22 playoff contests last spring.

The Sports Network

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