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Bruins host Flyers in Wednesday Night Rivalry opener

by Mike G. Morreale

The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers are set to renew their intense rivalry on the opening day of the NHL regular season in the first game of the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry (7:30 p.m. ET).

The Flyers might be looking for a little payback against the Bruins after losing all three games against them last season, including a 5-2 decision April 5 in Boston that enabled the Bruins to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have not beaten the Bruins since April 24, 2013, a 5-2 win at Wells Fargo Center.

42-30-10 (3rd, Metropolitan) 2013-14 Record 54-19-9 (1st, Atlantic)
1821-1254-457-104 All-Time Record 2938-2240-791-121
65-88-21-9 Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record 97-59-21-6
0-2-1 Streak vs. Opponent 3-0-0
0-2-1 @ Boston Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent 3-0-0 vs. Flyers
2 Stanley Cup Championships 6
9 Hockey Hall of Fame Members 48
Bob Clarke Most Famous Alumnus Bobby Orr
4 Hart Trophy Winners 12
37 Postseason Appearances 69
Mark Recchi (1992-95; 1999-2004) Best Player in Common Mark Recchi (2009-11)

The rivalry between the two teams has intensified in recent years. In the past 10 years the teams have met twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in the 2010 NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park in Boston.

"With Philly there's some history there, obviously, having played them twice in the playoffs and in the Winter Classic," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "The teams are pretty good reflections of the cities, and when they get together it's always a battle."

NHL on NBC analyst Keith Jones, who will play a part on the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry coverage this season, considers the Bruins the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

"The Bruins still look like the superior team, but they're not quite as strong as when they began last season," Jones said. "You can't keep everybody in this salary-cap world. [Defenseman] Johnny Boychuk is an example of that. They also had [Jarome] Iginla move on, who had such a good year for them last year. I don't see the same team as last year but I still see a lot to look forward to as a Bruins fan."

NBCSN play-by-play broadcaster Mike "Doc" Emrick believes the Bruins can win the Stanley Cup.

"I really think this is Boston's turn," Emrick said. "They've got almost everybody back, and I just like the looks of what I've seen in Boston in the preseason. I think it's their year to get it back again."

The most significant offseason change in Philadelphia came May 7 when Paul Holmgren was elevated to president and Ron Hextall was promoted from assistant general manager to GM.

"We have to be more consistent and more ready to go every night," Hextall said. "And compete. It's a hard League. It's hard to win. It's hard to get points. You can't let any games go by where you just mail it in and don't have a chance at picking up some points."

Here are five things to watch in the first of three games between the Flyers and Bruins this season:

1. Filling the void left by Boychuk's departure -- As remarkable as it was for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to re-sign restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith to one-year salary cap-friendly contracts, the loss of Boychuk and his six seasons of experience on the Boston defense raises a few questions. Chiarelli on Saturday traded Boychuk, 30, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, to the New York Islanders in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, a 2016 second-round draft pick and a conditional 2015 third-round draft pick.

Six-time Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara likely will partner with Dougie Hamilton to open the season, and Krug should remain with Adam McQuaid on the third defense pair. Bruins coach Claude Julien probably will have Dennis Seidenberg with Matt Bartkowski or Kevan Miller. The guess here is Miller gets the nod; he has a skill set similar to Boychuk, and like Boychuk is a right-hand shot.

2. Loui Eriksson on the top line -- Julien will need to find a replacement for Iginla at right wing on the top line. Iginla worked wonders with Lucic and center David Krejci on Boston's top line last season; it would appear Eriksson is first in line to take that role this season. Smith could be another option, but he seems a better fit alongside left wing Brad Marchand and center Patrice Bergeron.

3. Steve Mason's encore performance -- Mason returned from a concussion sustained late in the regular season to play well against the New York Rangers in the Flyers' seven-game first-round loss. Now the Flyers will need a repeat performance, especially since the team will be without its best defenseman, Kimmo Timonen. Timonen was hospitalized during the summer to receive treatment for blood clots in his lower right leg and lungs and his return is doubtful.

Hextall said the key for Mason is to approach this season day-to-day and focus on being consistent.

"That's what he's out to prove and that's what we're looking forward to seeing, the consistency from year to year," Hextall said.

4. Offense from Sean Couturier -- It will be interesting to see how the line combination of Couturier with Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds comes together in the early stages this season. Simmonds is dealing with a lower-body injury but could be in the lineup Wednesday. Perhaps the playmaking Read and physically intimidating Simmonds will provide Couturier with more room to operate and make plays. Flyers coach Craig Berube would like to see Couturier shoot more; he has 356 shots on goal in 205 career games in three seasons. Couturier, who scored 41 and 36 goals in his final two seasons with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, has 30 NHL goals.

5. Claude Giroux's game -- Giroux sustained a lower-body injury in the first practice of training camp and was off the ice for about a week. He returned for the final two preseason games. He'll likely begin the season on the top line, flanked by Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn. Giroux will be counted on for major offensive production. Schenn replaces Scott Hartnell, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the offseason. Giroux was in a similar position last season when an offseason hand injury played a major part in his struggles early in the season; Giroux didn't score his first goal until the Flyers' 16th game but turned his season around and became a Hart Trophy finalist. It'll be interesting to see how confident and effective he is coming off his lower-body injury.

In Philadelphia's final preseason game, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday, Giroux played 22:09, had five shots and won 11 of 18 faceoffs.


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