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On Wednesday, the National Hockey League released the 2009-2010 Boston Bruins regular season schedule. The Bruins, who will open the season at home for the fist time since 2005, begin play against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Thursday, October 1, at 7:00 p.m. in a game that marks the beginning of the Bruins’ longest homestand (of five games).
The schedule is highlighted by the New Year’s Day Winter Classic against the Philadelphia Flyers, which will be played at Fenway Park, and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, which will take place during the final two weeks of February. While these two events have been dominating the schedule headlines, the eighty-one other regular season games will provide plenty of action, entertainment, and storylines.
For the second game of the season, the Bruins will “welcome” the sucker-punching Scott Walker and the Hurricanes to the TD Banknorth Garden for the first match against each other since the ‘Canes ended the B’s season in overtime of the seventh game of the second round of the playoffs. Don’t expect many pleasantries to be exchanged; the Bruins have plenty to say and they will most likely use their bodies, particularly their fists, to express themselves.
While this game is not the first of the season between these two teams since they play in Boston on November 5, this match marks the first time the Bruins return to Montréal since they swept the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge in the opening round of last season’s playoffs. The Canadiens will be a new look team as the result of many free agency additions and losses, most notably their ten-season captain Saku Koivu, but the rivalry and Québecois welcome should remain unchanged.
While the Maple Leafs have not been the competitive team they once were, this season is the first with Brian Burke as general manager and what the organization hopes to be a turn-around year. The Bruins and Maples Leafs play three of their six matches against each other in this two-week span, which should produce some natural intensity and, potentially, some fireworks.
This season’s New Year’s Day Winter Classic, which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called “the NHL’s worst-kept secret,” will take place at Fenway Park, the 97-year-old home of the Boston Red Sox. Following the success of the last two Winter Classics, which occurred at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 and Wrigley Field last season, this match promises to be the highlight of the entire NHL season, not just those of the Bruins and Flyers.
According to NHL scheduling rules, each team plays six games against each divisional opponent (three home, three away), four against their conference opponents (two home, two away), and one game against their non-conference opponents, except for three teams, which are each played twice (home and away). This season the Bruins get to enjoy the California sunshine thanks to being scheduled to a home-and-away with the Ducks and Kings (the third team being the Chicago Blackhawks). The Bruins’ mid-season jaunt to California should provide an opportunity to garner at least four points (two wins and a loss or one win and two overtime/shoot-out losses) and to get a break from northeast’s cold.
As a result of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, the NHL will not host an All-Star game; they will instead take a two-week hiatus in order to allow players to represent their countries at the Games. While rosters will not be finalized for quite some time, expect to see the still-unsigned Phil Kessel and Tim Thomas representing Team USA and Milan Lucic playing for Team Canada.
Beginning with their match on Feb. 7 at the Canadiens, the Bruins will play eleven of their next thirteen games on the road, finishing this potentially harmful road stretch in Carolina on March 16. While this road trip is interrupted by the Olympic Break [which is followed by a two-game homestand (versus the Canadiens and Maple Leafs)], some of Boston’s top performers will be playing in Vancouver, which raises concerns of fatigue. March is also the season’s busiest month for the Bruins, who will play 16 games in 29 days. This grueling schedule, especially this late in the season, could be a problem for the Bruins if they are unable to stay fresh and motivated and could also possess potential playoff ramifications.
The Bruins close the season in the reverse order they opened it, hosting the Hurricanes and visiting the Capitals in Washington, D.C. By this point, the Bruins will have played 82 games, hopefully winning enough (or losing enough in overtime) to have earned a playoff spot.
The 2009-2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin on either the 13th or 14th of April, days that will hopefully mark the beginning of the Bruins’ post-season campaign to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Boston for the first time in 38 years.