BOSTON — The Boston Bruins will do something Saturday night that they haven’t done since April 7, 2012: play a regular season NHL game. The B’s open the lockout-shortened campaign at home against the New York Rangers.
When the NHL lockout began, goalie Tuukka Rask was one of nine Bruins players who signed on with a European team. Rask, who was born in Finland, says the novelty wore off as the NHL labor negotiations stalled.
“In the beginning, it was just a great experience to go in Europe,” Rask said after practice at Ristuccia Memorial Arena in Wilmington Thursday. “In late September, early October, you’re kind of not worried about anything, but then come November things just keep dragging on, dragging on. And you’re kind of like thinking to yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”
And there’s another reason for Rask to be happy. He returns from the lockout as the Bruins’ starting goaltender. Tim Thomas announced in June that he was taking a season off to spend more time with his family. But that’s the most significant change to the roster and Rask says having the same core group of players is an advantage heading into a short season.
“I know when to trust them and I know what kind of plays they’re going to make,” Rask said. “[This] team’s been together for many years, so we don’t have to do any extra team bonding or anything like that. We just have to go out there and play our game.”
One new Bruin bears a very familiar name. Winger Chris Bourque is the son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque. Boston acquired the 26-year-old in a trade with Washington last spring. After more than seven years in the minors, this is Bourque’s first time starting a season with a big-league team.
“Being a fan of the game, it’s nice to have the game back,” Bourque said. “Obviously for me to get a chance to play in the NHL is something that I’ve always wanted to do, so when the lockout ended I knew that I had a chance to finally do that.”
The season will be 48 games instead of the usual 82, but that shortened schedule will be compacted with teams often playing three nights out of four.
Coach Claude Julien says on top of that, trying to get into game shape in less than a week, as opposed to the usual month of training camp, is a challenge.
“We’ll get through it,” Julien said. “And like every other team, we’ve just got to show some character and battle through it and stay positive.”
The Bruins have won two Stanley Cup championships in 48-game seasons; they did it in 1939 and 1941. But back then a complete regular season was 48 games.
Doug Tribou is a reporter and producer for Only A Game.