A pair of Original Six franchise will get their seasons underway in Boston on Saturday, as the Bruins host the New York Rangers at TD Garden.
Both the Bruins and Rangers have high expectations heading into this lockout- shortened campaign. That's especially true of New York, which made it to the Eastern Conference finals last spring and enters this season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers entered the playoffs last spring as the top seed in the conference after picking up their first division title since 1993-94, which was also the club's last Stanley Cup championship season. New York's dreams of adding another Cup ended last season in the conference finals against New Jersey, but the Rangers hope the addition of Rick Nash can get the club to the mountain top in 2013.
With an excellent defensive corps and one of the world's best goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers wisely opted to add some offensive firepower by trading for power forward Nash in the offseason. Having played his entire NHL career in Columbus, Nash has barely sniffed the playoffs but the 28-year-old is a bona fide scorer with 30 or more goals in each of his last five seasons. Nash adds serious offensive clout and his presence alone should take some pressure off guys like Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards.
"Everybody knows who we are and knows the expectations," Richards recently told the New York Daily News. "We're going to get a lot of good efforts, not surprise anybody. I think we're going to have to play better than we did last year."
Even with Nash in tow, the Rangers still revolve around Lundqvist, who won the first Vezina Trophy of his career in 2011-12 and is one of the favorites to win the goaltending award this season. Last year, the Swede went 39-18-5 with a 1.97 goals-against average and eight shutouts.
While New York has its sights set on its first championship since the mid-1990s, the Bruins will try for the second Cup in three seasons in 2013. Boston won it all in the spring of 2011 before losing in seven games to Washington last year.
The Bruins will have to compete for a title without goaltender Tim Thomas -- the 2011 Conn Smythe winner -- who will sit out this season due to personal reasons. Thomas' decision to take this year off leaves Tuukka Rask as the undisputed No. 1 netminder in Boston with Anton Khudobin as an unproven backup.
Rask wrested the starting job away from Thomas in 2009-10 before reverting to a backup role over the last two years. The 25-year-old Rask has proven himself as an NHL-caliber goaltender by posting a 2.20 goals-against average during his 102 career games, but effectively replacing a two-time Vezina Trophy winner like Thomas is no easy task. The good news is Boston's aforementioned defense boasts perennial Norris candidate Zdeno Chara at the top of the rotation and that'll make things easier for any goalie.
The Bruins were quiet during the offseason in terms of acquiring proven NHL talent but Boston hopes forward Tyler Seguin can make up for a lack of impact moves from the front office.
Seguin -- the second overall pick in the 2010 draft -- is primed for a breakout year after becoming a vastly improved player as a sophomore in 2011-12. Seguin had 11 goals and 11 assists in 74 games as a rookie before leading Boston with 67 points (29 goals, 38 assists) in 81 contests in 2011-12.
New York won three of four meetings against the Bruins in 2011-12 and the Rangers have claimed nine of 12 overall in the series. The Blueshirts also have won four in a row and five of their last six games in Boston.
"It's a good lineup throughout," Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said of the Rangers. "They had a good run last year. We know that it's a team that's been together for a couple years, that's been improving. It's always a tough battle against them and we're expecting that Saturday, as well."
Boston was 24-14-3 as the host in 2011-12 and the Rangers posted a 24-12-5 mark on the road.