For Bruins, the real regular season starts tonight against Lightning

For Bruins, the real regular season starts tonight against Lightning

BRIGHTON, Mass. — The Bruins did what they set out to at the start of the hockey year, and now the real season gets going.

They battled through adversity, a few injuries and a quick summer turnover coming off the Stanley Cup Final run to get off to a 5-1-0 start to the regular season, and sit near the top of the Atlantic Division right out of the gate.

But let’s be honest. There hasn’t been a lot of sizzle to any of these early season games. They dispatched a bunch of teams out west to start the year, and then they completely outclassed the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks on home ice to start their TD Garden schedule.

But Thursday is when the real season begins. The Bruins will host last year’s NHL Presidents' Trophy winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Thursday night and then they will play the Toronto Maple Leafs in a home-and-home series that’s sure to stir up the rivalry embers.

As if that isn’t enough, the Bruins will then finish with a home date against the St. Louis Blues just a few months after their highly physical, fierce seven-game Stanley Cup Final series back in June. In strictly technical terms, these next four games simply represent 4.8 percent of the 82-game regular season schedule.

But in terms of importance, the Black and Gold are expecting a significant, noticeable raise in the level of intensity after simply playing “okay” while winning five of their first six games to start the regular season.

“I think they would amp up [over the next few games]. They certainly will on our side. Knowing our group, we’re a competitive group. Toronto to me is definitely a rivalry, and that goes back to the Original Six and a number of playoff matchups over the years,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I would like to think we’ll be better for 60 minutes over the next three games because of what’s at stake with a divisional rival, and the familiarity there with the energy level going up.

“You don’t need to explain how many times we play them and how we’ve played them in the playoffs. That’s naturally going to evolve. [The game vs. Tampa] will definitely be a measuring stick game for us. Every time we play them we need to be at our best because they’re at the top of the division every year. We look at it certainly as a bigger challenge than on some other nights.”

The rematch against St. Louis next week certainly speaks for itself, and the early season home-and-home against the Maple Leafs will be something that sets a tone between those two hockey clubs for the entirety of the season. Never mind that Boston has ended Toronto’s season in the first round in each of the last two postseasons, or that the Lightning, Leafs and Bruins are once again expected to be a three-team Battle Royale at the top of the Atlantic again this season.

These will finally be some hockey games with emotion, energy and even a little good, old-fashioned hatred that’s been missing to this point in the early season. 

“They are big games. Especially the first time you see them in a season you want to set the tone,” said Torey Krug. “It’s a rivalry game, in division and guys that we’ve seen in the playoffs over the last couple of years. You have to be excited about these matchups.

“I would hope both teams are [treating it as a measuring stick]. We’re playing pretty well and both [Tampa and Toronto] would like to be off to better starts than they have had. We both just want to line up, go punch-for-punch and see where we all stand up at the end of the night.”

It’s in these intense, well-matched divisional games where Boston’s top-heavy offense and their case of second-period ennui is going to catch up them if they’re not careful over the next week of hockey.

The out-of-conference wins for the Bruins at the start of the year have been important, and will come in handy when/if the Bruins hit the wall a little bit later in the season. But the ultra-important, divisional points will now start being up for grabs starting Thursday night against Tampa, and these next few games will give us the real read as to where Boston’s game is at this point very early in the NHL regular season.

Preview: Bruins vs Lightning>>>>>

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Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

WASHINGTON  – It might have been the Bruins' fourth loss in a row and, for the first time all season, the B's have lost three consecutive regulation games, but there were glimmers of hope in the 3-2 defeat at hands of the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

The Bruins marched out to a 1-0 lead after David Pastrnak’s first goal in five games and it would have been a two-goal lead early in the game if a silly offsides challenge that had nothing to do with the actual goal hadn’t overturned Patrice Bergeron’s power-play strike.

So, the Bruins had a better start than they have had recently, had a solid three periods of play while outshooting the Capitals 32-25 and played with more engagement, effort and urgency than they have shown in a couple of weeks. It was certainly encouraging that the Bruins are turning the corner back toward consistently good efforts rather than some of the forgettable, unfocused efforts of the past couple of weeks. Still, it was again a loss. 

“We’re all frustrated, but as a coach, you like how the 60 minutes transpired better than some of the other nights. We were in the game, right there and very easily could have won the game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Two or three things probably changed that, but in terms of a 60-minute effort we’re getting a lot closer to where we want to be.”

The good news is that the Bruins leadership group sees light at the end of the tunnel with another big game against the Tampa Bay Lightning awaiting them 24 hours later. 

“I thought that’s the kind of hockey that [we] want to play and you want to get back to,” said Bergeron of a Bruins team that’s taken just one out of a possible eight points in their last four games. “There are still some things to rectify with us coming up short, but we’re trending in the right direction. But it’s a short turnaround with the game [against Tampa Bay].”

The Bruins are still sitting on a 10-point lead in the division over Buffalo and Montreal despite having dropped four in a row, so there’s clearly no panic or feeling like their backs are against the wall. On the contrary, that might be part of the lack of urgency that’s crept into the B’s game the past couple of weeks, but they showed Wednesday night that they still have a solid, consistent effort in them when the mood strikes them.

Perhaps the good, honest and hard-working losing effort against the Capitals can spin the Bruins back into a winning direction with a couple of road games in Florida staring them in the face.

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Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

WASHINGTON - GOLD STAR: All T.J. Oshie did was score a couple of goals that powered the Capitals for all of their offense in the second period while setting Washington up to win the third. The first score was a power-play goal right in front of the net that tied things up and the second was a nifty individual move where he split defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Connor Clifton before dangling around Clifton and roofing a backhander for a beautiful goal. Oshie finished with two shots on net and four shot attempts overall in 20:31 of ice time to go along with a blocked shot. Still, it was all about the offense provided when the Capitals needed it as a bit of a one-man goal-scoring show on a night when Alex Ovechkin was pretty much held in check.

BLACK EYE: Jake DeBrusk at least had a positive play when he fed Patrice Bergeron for a first-period, power-play goal that would have given the Bruins a 2-0 lead. Instead, the goal was wiped off the board by an offsides challenge and DeBrusk was a negative player for the Black and Gold for the rest of the night. DeBrusk finished with no points, no shots on net and had three giveaways in 20:50 while finishing with a minus-1 rating. He certainly wasn’t alone with not bringing enough to the table for the B’s, but it was him fading into the background in a physical, gritty game against a quality opponent that conjured up memories of his issues in the playoffs last season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins tied the score by grinding for a third-period goal from their fourth line, but then they gave up a go-ahead goal less than two minutes later. Then the B’s proceeded to get outshot 11-9 in the third period despite never leading at any point in the final 20 minutes and never really mounting enough pressure to potentially tie it to pus things to the extra session. It’s a massive letdown for the B’s to claw all the way back and then watch as it goes up in smoke in just a couple of minutes, but it was about Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson – two of Washington’s best players – stepping up and making the play when it needed to be made.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak snapped his longest goal-scoring drought of the season at four games as he scored the first goal for the Bruins on a sizzling wrist shot. It was a nice transition play from Charlie McAvoy bombing down the left side before moving cross-ice to Pastrnak at the bottom of the face-off circle. Pastrnak snapped it off the crossbar and into the back of the net for his NHL-leading 26th goal and got Boston off to a good start for the first time in a while. Pastrnak finished with the goal, seven shot attempts, a hit and three takeaways in 21:16 while playing a strong, solid, Pastrnak-like game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 – the number of consecutive losses for the Bruins. They have lost four in a row one other time this season, but it’s the first time they’ve lost three regulation games in a row.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just told him I'm happy for him and congrats. He looks like he's got a six-pack now, so I'm just happy for him. It was great to see him. It's been a while." –Brad Marchand, on what he said to former teammate Tim Thomas when he was on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop as a new inductee for the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

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