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By Pierre LeBrunHockey was put back on the map in Beantown last season, as a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference sparked a revival of the Original Six market. But the ending wasn't so great. An overtime loss in Game 7 to the underdog Carolina Hurricanes abruptly ended a magical season in the second round.
"I think it's still in the back of your mind that it was a bitter end to our playoffs last year and to our season last year," Bruins power winger Milan Lucic told ESPN.com. "It sticks in the back of your mind, and it's never a good feeling going out in overtime like we did, working so hard to get ourselves back in that series
"It was tough, but I think it'll help us in the long run, and I think it sort of builds a little of that ammunition that you need going in the next season."
Here are 10 things you need to know about Boston:
Matt Kalman projects what the Bruins' lineup will look like for the 2009-10 season. ESPNBoston.com
1. Timmy can relax
Every single season since the lockout, Tim Thomas arrived at camp having to answer questions about whether he was fighting for the starting job in goal. A Vezina Trophy campaign last season put an end to that. He's the man in goal, case closed.
"I think even in previous years, a lot of the controversy was media-driven," Thomas told ESPN.com. "I always knew where I was at in their eyes. Having said that, it could be different this year, but I'm going to try and not approach it differently. I don't want to sit on my laurels. I want to go after it and try and play as well as last year."
2. Stanley Cup or bust
Bruins fans are foaming at the mouth for a Stanley Cup run.
"The general public's expectations are high; our standards are high," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com. "We are cautious in the sense we have to take a day-to-day approach. We don't want to put the cart before the horse. Our team is about defense first and working hard. We have a good team with good depth. Our defense is strong. We obviously expect to do better than last year, but it's important not to look too far ahead. It's a marathon. I like our team, our young guys are going to improve. There's unfinished business."
3. Welcome, Mr. Morris
The Bruins identified the need for a veteran puck-moving defenseman after their loss to Carolina this past spring, someone who would help beat an aggressive forecheck with a good outlet pass. Enter Derek Morris.
"Poise, a good puck mover, a veteran, he complements our defense well and plays a lot of minutes," Chiarelli said of Morris.
Morris joins Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara on defense with Dennis Wideman, Matt Hunwick, Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart. It's a solid group.
4. Replacing Kessel's goals
Phil Kessel and his 36 goals are gone after his trade to intradivision rival Toronto. But simply having a healthy Marco Sturm back should help alleviate some of that offensive void. After back-to-back 27-goal seasons, the 31-year-old was limited to 19 games last season because of injuries and knee surgery ended his season in January.
"He's a 20- to 30-goal scorer with speed," Chiarelli said. "It'll be a boost to get him back."
5. Let's stay stingy
The Bruins allowed the fewest goals in the NHL last season (190), a 2.32 average per game that beat the likes of Minnesota and New Jersey, the usual standard-bearers in this area. The Bruins are fun to watch, but there's no question they remain a defense-first club under coach Claude Julien.
6. Boston market
It's a tough chore to compete for the entertainment dollar with the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics, but the Bruins carved their way back into New England's sports psyche, and wallets, last season.
"It's great to be part of the organization when a renaissance, so to speak, is going on," Thomas said. "I think it's always been a hockey town; they've just been waiting for an excuse to come back. Just in the past couple of years, you see many more kids in the streets playing hockey. From what my neighbors told me, that's how it always was when they were kids, but then there was a gap where it stopped. Now it's picking back up."
7. Monster Milan
Lucic is developing into one of the NHL's premier power forwards, drawing comparisons to Bruins legend and current front-office executive Cam Neely.
"It's great any time you're compared to a player like him. He's a Hall of Famer," Lucic said. "He's still an icon in the Boston area; [the fans] all still love him. When we do team events and he's there, I think they want to talk to him more than any of the active players. He's a great guy. He's helped me out a lot."
8. The new backup
With Manny Fernandez gone, Tim Thomas has a youngster as his backup in goal this season in Finland's Tuukka Rask.
"Actually, I have gotten to know Tuukka fairly well," Thomas said. "A couple of summers ago, we took a trip to Calgary together and worked on some goaltending stuff together. Having played in Finland, I'm pretty familiar with the Finnish people, so I expect it to be a good relationship. I don't think it's my role, though, to watch over him day in and day out and if I see something in practice, point it out to him right away. We have a goalie coach, Bob Essensa, for that. The mentoring will be more about me setting a good example by working hard in practice and how I approach and react to different situations throughout the year."
9. Olympic exposure
For such a talented team, the Bruins may not send that many players to the Olympics, which is a good thing for the club in terms of resting players during the two-week break in February. Because star center Marc Savard was overlooked by Canada for its orientation camp, Boston's Olympic candidates are likely Lucic (Team Canada), Thomas (USA), Chara (Slovakia), David Krejci (Czech Republic) and Sturm (Germany).
Thomas, for one, insists the Games won't alter his focus.
"I don't think it changes anything for me," he said. "First of all, the Olympics aren't until February. You can get off to a good start, but the season is so long. You can have a great October and November and December and have a terrible January, and that looks just as bad as if you had a bad start. I'll just try to keep playing like I have been the last few years, and if I do that, I should be in a pretty good spot."
10. Happy New Year
The Bruins will be the focus of the hockey world on Jan. 1 when they host the third edition of the Winter Classic against the Philadelphia Flyers at venerable Fenway Park. Will we see a Chara slap shot carom off the Green Monster?
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
• Record: 53-19-10
• Division: First in the Northeast
• Conference: First in the East
• Playoffs: Ousted in second round by Carolina
• The Bruins will once again win the Northeast Division crown and finish second in the Eastern Conference.
• The Bruins rewarded Julien with a much-deserved contract extension in early September, making sure the 2009 Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year wasn't going anywhere.
Since Julien came on board in 2007, the Bruins have gone from patsy to playoff team to Cup contender. He's 94-48-22 in two seasons behind Boston's bench, getting his team to buy into a defensive concept that still produces entertaining hockey.
F -- Milan Lucic
• Highly motivated by surprise Canadian Olympic camp invite.
F -- Marc Savard
• Highly motivated by surprise Canadian Olympic camp snub.
F -- Marco Sturm
• Looking for bounce-back season after knee surgery limited him to 19 games last season.
D -- Zdeno Chara
• With a Norris Trophy in his pocket, what can he do for an encore? The Stanley Cup?
D -- Derek Morris
• The puck-moving blueliner the Bruins were missing last season.
Best Bet: Tim Thomas, G: Is his style unconventional? Absolutely. Does he have only five years of NHL experience even though he's 35 years old? It's true. Whatever your thoughts on how Thomas came into the league and how he covers the net, the numbers don't lie. The Bruins have transformed into a powerhouse of team defense and earned Thomas the Vezina and Jennings Trophies last season because of it. All the same pieces are returning and Thomas should have no trouble once again helping this Bruins team shut down opposing defenses.
Risky Move: Milan Lucic, F: Even though Lucic is the type of player who is more valuable to his team than to fantasy owners, he still manages to do a decent impression of a No. 3 fantasy forward. While he won't set the world on fire with his scoring or shooting, Lucic will rack up the penalty minutes and post a solid plus/minus. Still, another improvement to his point totals can be expected in 2009-10, making him a decent sleeper value.• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit
Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.
Where will the Boston Bruins finish this season in Northeast Division?
Make your 2009-10 picks here.