COLUMBUS - Game 1. It's finally here. The time has come to start fresh, with no wins yet to claim, and no goals, assists or points in the players' stat columns.
The puck will drop on the Bruins' 2016-17 season Thursday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m. ET (NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).
"I know they're all excited and seven o'clock can't come soon enough," Head Coach Claude Julien said Thursday morning after taking his team through its morning paces at Nationwide Arena.
"And that's not just from them - for us as coaches, too. We're all excited about the start of the season. So, it's all about bottling it up and using it properly tonight."
The Bruins kick off their season with a three-game road trip through Columbus, Toronto and Winnipeg, and wouldn't be opposed to spoiling a couple of home openers against the Blue Jackets and Leafs.
"You're going to be tested, no question - you're going to have the other team's A-game," said David Backes, who will make his much anticipated Bruins debut.
"And being on the road, we got to have a nice team dinner last night and spend some more time with the guys, and assimilate new guys like myself into the team and guys spending time together and sharing stories and history," Backes continued. "It's one of those opportunities to grow tighter as a group off the ice, so that you're tighter on the ice and can win games."
While the preseason offers a chance for evaluation, teaching and team bonding, Julien and the group are excited to play for keeps.
"It was nice to see players in certain situations, certain positions and all that stuff to give us a better picture of how we want to start, but now that we've done that, it's really important for us to move forward," said Julien. "I'm excited about moving forward - I think in the situation that we're in, a lot of new faces and it's not a bad thing that we're starting on the road."
"So we're looking forward to this road trip, bonding and picking up some valuable points."
The Bruins had one of the strongest road records in the league during the 2015-16 season, going 25-13-3 away from TD Garden.
Living the Dream
Four Bruins are expected to make their debuts on Thursday night in Columbus: forwards Austin Czarnik and Danton, along with defensemen Brandon Carlo and Rob O'Gara.
"I always tell them the same thing - you know, it's that they can't be nervous; they've just got to go out there and play and have some fun, just like they did through camp that really helped them earn a spot on the team," said Julien. "So we're hoping that they're going to go out there and do the same thing."
"I talked to them, they seemed pretty relaxed this morning."
The four rookies were all smiles Thursday morning in the locker room, but also business-like, trying to keep their nerves at bay.
Their energy will no doubt transfer over to the rest of the group.
"Whenever there's young guys on the team, they just bring a little more excitement," said Marchand. "They have a lot of energy. They're like little puppies - that's kind of what Pasta's like; he's always buzzing around and excited all the time. So it's fun to have that young energy in the room and it gives us all a little more energy for sure."
Bergeron, McQuaid, Miller Out
If you missed Wednesday's news, Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller did not travel with the team to Columbus.
Bergeron is out day-to-day with a lower-body injury that is expected to be short term, with the possibility that he could join the team at some point on the trip. The same is true for McQuaid, who is out with an upper-body injury and skated on his own Wednesday before the team's practice.
Miller will be out for an estimated six weeks after undergoing surgery on Tuesday to repair a fracture in his left hand.
Blue Jackets Outlook
While the Bruins will open 2016-17 with three road games, Columbus will open its season with three consecutive home games for the first time in franchise history, against Boston, San Jose and Chicago.
Netminder Sergei Bobrovsky enters the night with 98 wins as a Blue Jacket, just two shy of becoming the first goalie to win 100 with the franchise.
Columbus has two players set to make their NHL debuts, including blueliner Zach Werenski, who roomed with Carlo during World Juniors and was his defense partner during the tournament.
"Pretty cool. We became good friends, we roomed together at World Juniors and obviously played together," said Carlo.
"Nothing but great respect for him. But, tonight he's the enemy," he smiled. "We'll be going through the game and maybe I'll see him afterwards and say hello real quick, but really exciting opportunity for both of us."
The Blue Jackets, like the Bruins, want to play a quicker game, infused with youth and moving faster in transition from the back end. With young players, everything won't be perfect.
"They're going to make mistakes - so are the other guys that have been in the league forever. It's a game of mistakes; we try to minimize them," said Julien. "That's why we kept them here, because we think they've done a good enough job and minimize those kind of mistakes that we feel they're ready to start the season here."
Thursday's tilt marks the first of three meetings on the season. The Bruins took the 2015-16 series, 2-0-1, with shootout and overtime wins. Columbus has earned a point in each of the past six regular season meetings against Boston, going 3-0-3 since a 3-1 regulation loss at Boston on Nov. 30, 2013.
Pregame Skate Lines and Pairings 10/13
Ryan Spooner-David Krejci-Danton Heinen
Brad Marchand-David Backes-David Pastrnak
Matt Beleskey-Austin Czarnik-Jimmy Hayes
Dominic Moore-Riley Nash-Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara-Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug-Rob O'Gara
John-Michael Liles-Colin Miller
Expected Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask * // Backup: Anton Khudobin
Likely Scratches: Joe Morrow, Tim Schaller **
*Rask was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate, indicating he's expected to start between the pipes against Columbus.
**Both Morrow and Schaller stayed on the ice for extra work after pregame skate, indicating that they will likely be the scratches for Thursday's opener.