Friday saw the Phoenix Coyotes and Boston Bruins conduct their last practices of the preseason in preparation for the start of the 2010-11 season.
Saturday will see the first of two 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere games at the O2 Arena here (Noon ET, TSN, VERSUS), as both teams will start their seasons looking to better their fortunes from 2009-10.
"Serious stuff going on now," Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov told NHL.com after Friday's practice. "The joke is over. This is what it is all about. The race has begun."
Despite spending the past five days playing tourist in Prague -- visiting castles and town squares, and attending state dinners -- and playing exhibition games throughout the region, both teams know two valuable points are on the line Saturday, with two more at stake in Sunday's rematch (10 a.m. ET, NHLN, NESN) before the teams fly home to more familiar surroundings after the game.
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett also knows how hard it is to make up ground. He has warned his team that points will be harder to come by this season because opponents will be more ready for the Coyotes this season after the way they snuck up on teams last season and rode the element of surprise to a 107-point season and a fourth-place finish in a very strong Western Conference.
It seems they have gotten the message.
"I wouldn't say there is a target on our back, but expectations are different," Phoenix forward Wojtek Wolski told NHL.com "For us, the surprise factor is out the window."
Both teams appear to be healthy to start the season.
For Phoenix, Ray Whitney and Derek Morris are nursing lower-body injuries, but each skated at full speed Friday, suggesting they will play. Rookie defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a 2009 first-round pick, likely will make his NHL debut.
Boston, who was painfully knocked out of the playoffs last season in the second round after blowing a 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, will have a slightly new look this season.
Nathan Horton, obtained in a trade with Florida, will start on the top line. Gregory Campbell, obtained in that same deal, will be on the fourth line.
Meanwhile, youngsters Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron likely will make their NHL debuts. Seguin was the No. 2 pick of the 2010 Entry Draft and likely will center the third line. Caron was a 2009 first-round pick.
Brad Marchand, who played 20 games with the Bruins last season, also has broken camp with the team.
Brian McGrattan, though, will not be in the lineup. He is with the team on a professional tryout contract and can not play in a regular-season game until he signs an NHL deal.
Tuukka Rask, who usurped the No. 1 goaltender job in Boston last season when Tim Thomas was sidelined by a hip injury, will get the start for Boston.
Both coaches have made some hard decisions throughout training camp to get to this point and each is more than ready for season to start.
"Let's get this thing going," Julien said Friday. "Training camp has been long enough and now it is time to get to the task at hand, which is to make the playoffs."
And while an 0-fer on the European trip won't be the end of the world for either team, it is a concept that is too painful to be even contemplated at this point.
"These are very important points," Tippett told NHL.com. "Every year, you look at coming down to the last weeks of the season, points are so valuable. You can't look back and say, 'Oh, that was a fun vacation we had in Prague, but we left four points there.' Our players recognize that and they know how important these points are."