Lightning-Bruins Preview

Boston Bruins president Cam Neely didn’t watch the Chicago
Blackhawks raise their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters before
their season opener.

He’s eager to begin another run at the NHL championship and
attend a similar ceremony on his team’s ice next year.

“You have a hard time watching someone else win the Cup and
raise a banner,” Neely said Wednesday. “So I didn’t watch it.
Hopefully we’ll be watching one in the near future here.”

The Bruins came close last season.

They were leading the Blackhawks 2-1 in Game 6 of the finals
before giving up two goals in the last 76 seconds, allowing the
Chicago players to skate with the Stanley Cup on Boston ice.

On Thursday night they begin pursuit of their second Cup in four
years when they open the season at home against the Tampa Bay
Lightning.

“I guess the keynote is to say we’re not going to play for
second place,” owner Jeremy Jacobs said. “We’re here to win. I
think that the organization is in a good place to do that. I think
we’ve got the right combination of things. We have a strong team
that should compete, should be a winner.”

The Bruins (28-14-6) return a team heavy on players who’ve been
a part of the organization for two lengthy playoff runs the past
three seasons.

They did add Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson to play right wing
on the top two lines. Reilly Smith, obtained with Eriksson in a
trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas, figures to be part of the
third line. Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, who both emerged as
NHL-caliber defensemen in the playoffs, will begin the season with
the team. Chad Johnson is a newcomer as the backup to goalie Tuukka
Rask.

Boston went 6-1 in exhibition games, and coach Claude Julien is
confident his team is prepared to start the season.

“I think we’re in a good place right now,” Julien said. “I liked
what I saw the last few days. (In) practice today, guys were sharp;
they were excited. I think we’re ready to go there. Even though we
had some new faces, what I saw in the preseason I really liked.
Those guys have adjusted well quickly. And, if anything, they’re
only going to get better. So I’m pretty happy with where we are
right now, knowing that it’ll only get better.”

The Bruins already are dealing with injuries. Forward Carl
Soderberg hasn’t skated since injuring his ankle in the preseason
finale Friday. He is on injured reserve and will be unavailable for
the opener. Top-line center David Krejci skated Wednesday for the
first time since back spasms kept him from playing in that same
game against Winnipeg. Krejci will be a game-time decision to face
the Lightning (18-26-4).

The Bruins nearly won the Stanley Cup despite numerous injuries
to center Patrice Bergeron in the Cup finals and a broken leg in
the Eastern Conference finals that ended center Gregory Campbell’s
season.

“You’ve got to get the right breaks, guys got to stay healthy
and you’ve got to get those lucky bounces,” left wing Brad Marchand
said. “And, at the same time, you’ve got to have everybody playing
their best. It’s definitely very tough to do, but I think the fans
in Boston all expect it and our management and coaching staff
expect the same thing, so that’s what we expect as well and we
won’t be happy unless we reach those goals.”

Coach Jon Cooper’s message to the Lightning is simple: If you
hope to make the playoffs, play better defense.

No team in the NHL allowed more goals over the past two seasons
than the 425 yielded by the Lightning, who dismissed Guy Boucher
and hired Cooper as his replacement in March.

Cooper went 4-8-3 over the final 15 games of last season and is
working on changing the mindset of a team that’s thrived on the
scoring prowess of young Steven Stamkos and two holdovers from
Tampa Bay’s only Stanley Cup championship, Martin St. Louis and the
now-departed Vincent Lecavalier.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to open up the stat pack and
see,” Cooper said. “We are the only team to give up more than 400
goals the past two seasons, and we have to shore that up.”

With an eye on building for long-term success, general manager
Steve Yzerman bought out the contract of Lecavalier this
offseason.

The 38-year-old St. Louis and Stamkos remain after finishing
one-two in the NHL scoring race during last season’s abbreviated
48-game schedule.

St. Louis had 17 goals and a league-leading 43 assists for 60
points. Stamkos was second with 57 points, including 29 goals, and
says it’s important that everyone buy in to what Cooper is
preaching.

“Marty and I finished one-two in scoring last year,” the
23-year-old Stamkos said. “It’s great, but we don’t make the
playoffs.”

With St. Louis and Lecavalier playing key roles, the Lightning
won the Stanley Cup in 2004. The team has missed the playoffs five
of the past six seasons.

One of the reasons has been inconsistent goaltending, a trend
that Cooper and Yzerman hopes will end with 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop and
6-6 Anders Lindback handling the duties this season.

Bishop appeared in nine games, going 3-4-1 with a 2.99
goals-against average last season after being obtained from Ottawa
in April. This is Lindback’s second season in Tampa Bay since being
acquired from Nashville in June 2012. He appeared in 24 games,
going 10-10-1 with a 2.90 GAA a year ago.

Cooper knows, however, the team also has to play better in front
of them.

“You can’t rely on your goaltender to make every single save,”
he said.

Including the 2011 East finals, Boston has won seven straight
over Tampa Bay at home.