After a decade without winning a single playoff series, the Bruins have made it through the opening round in each of the last two years. Unfortunately, only more heartbreak awaited them in the second round, as they fell to Carolina in overtime of Game 7 in 2009 and blew a 3-0 lead to Philadelphia this past spring. Being able to put that historic collapse behind them will be the Bruins’ first task this season.
The second will be reestablishing the offense that was second in the NHL in scoring in 2008-09, but dropped to deal last in the league last season. The Bruins added some key pieces by trading for Nathan Horton and drafting Tyler Seguin, but they will also need many holdovers from last year to return to their 2008-09 form if they are to climb back up the standings to the top of the Eastern Conference and make it any further in the playoffs.
2009-10 record: 39-30-13, 91 points (third in Northeast Division; sixth in Eastern Conference; lost in second round of playoffs to Philadelphia, 4-3)
Familiar faces: For the third straight season, the Bruins will begin the year without a Massachusetts native on the roster. No Bay Stater has played for Boston since Bobby Allen in 2007-08. That’s a far cry for the massive Massachusetts turnout just five years ago, when the first season after the lockout featured the likes of Tom Fitzgerald (Billerica), Hal Gill (Bolton), Shawn McEachern (Waltham), Ian Moran (Acton), Dan LaCouture (Natick), Pat Leahy (Duxbury) and Eric Healey (Hull), not to mention a coach from Marshfield (Mike Sullivan) and a GM from Cohasset (Mike O’Connell).
This year’s Bruins team does have one New England connection, with goalie Tim Thomas having played at the University of Vermont, while defensemen David Warsofsky (Marshfield, Mass./Boston University), Tommy Cross (Hartford, Conn./Boston College) and Cody Wild (Limestone, Maine/Providence College) and forward Mark Goggin (Dartmouth College) are also in the system.
Key additions: F Nathan Horton (trade with Florida); F Gregory Campbell (trade with Florida); F Tyler Seguin (draft); F Jeremy Reich (free agent); D Nathan McIver (free agent); G Nolan Schaefer (free agent)
Key losses: D Dennis Wideman (traded to Florida); F Vladimir Sobotka (traded to St. Louis); F Steve Begin (free agent); F Miroslav Satan (free agent); D Andy Wozniewski (signed with EV Zug, Switzerland); F Guillaume Lefebvre (signed with HC Ocelari Trinec, Czech Republic); G Dany Sabourin (signed with Washington); F Mikko Lehtonen (signed with Skelleftea, Sweden); D Drew Fata (free agent); F Drew Larman (free agent)
Burning question: Can the Bruins’ offense rebound this year?
The Bruins’ decline last year didn’t come at the defensive end, where Boston ranked second in the league with a 2.33 team goals-against average, which was virtually identical to their league-leading 2.32 GAA from the previous year. But the other end of the ice was a completely different matter, as Boston dropped from averaging 3.29 goals a game (second in the NHL) to just 2.39 goals a game, ranking 30th in the 30-team circuit with just 196 goals.
Horton, a perennial 20-goal scorer who could greatly exceed that level with an elite playmaker like Marc Savard to set him up, will help significantly. So will having Savard healthy again after foot, knee and head injuries limited him to 41 games last year. The club doesn’t want to put too much pressure on Seguin, but clearly he’s expected to contribute this year as well. But the Bruins also need some of the players who underperformed for much of last year to bounce back or show some progress, with Milan Lucic, Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler and Marco Sturm (once healthy) also helping to make it a more balanced and effective attack.
2010-11 outlook: The Bruins have a lot of strong pieces in place. Tuukka Rask will look to build off a dynamic rookie season in which he led the league in GAA (1.97) and save percentage (.931). And if he falters, 2009 Vezina winner Thomas will be on hand to pick up the slack. Zdeno Chara will look to regain his Norris Trophy form after struggling with a hand injury much of last season. He’ll be helped by having Dennis Seidenberg (league-best 215 blocked shots last year) alongside him for a full season, but the Bruins also need Andrew Ference to finally stay healthy and for someone out of the group of youngsters Johnny Boychuk, Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick to emerge as a legitimate top-four defenseman.
Boychuk showed that ability during a strong postseason, but now he has to prove he can maintain that consistency over an entire season. Up front, the Bruins need better production from just about everyone, along with Mark Recchi (18-25-43) somehow defying the aging process for one more year. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci tied for the team lead with 52 points last year. The Bruins would love to see both return closer to the career-high 73 points each has posted in the past, though their solid two-way play gives them some leeway on that while still remaining extremely valuable to the team.
Did you know? Despite being just one of two Eastern Conference teams to reach the second round of the playoffs in each of the last two years (Pittsburgh being the other), the Bruins did not have one player from last year’s season-ending roster earn a contract from another NHL club this summer. The Bruins re-signed many of their own free agents, bringing back unrestricted free agents Seidenberg, Boychuk, Recchi, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton and restricted free agents Stuart, Wheeler and Adam McQuaid. Dennis Wideman and Vladimir Sobotka landed in other organizations via trades, but of the others set free, none drew interest from another NHL club except Providence goalie Dany Sabourin. He signed a two-way deal with Washington but is expected to spend the season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate in Hershey. Part-timers Andy Wozniewski, Guillaume Lefebvre and Mikko Lehtonen couldn’t even manage a two-way deal, instead settling for opportunities in Europe, while veterans Steve Begin and Miroslav Satan remain unsigned as August comes to a close.