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Puck drops on start of 2009-10 NHL season

by Adam Kimelman
It's been a long time since we've seen the eight teams opening the 2009-10 NHL season Thursday.

While their future has yet to be written, this is as good a time as any to remember back to the last time we saw these teams.

For the Washington Capitals, it was skating off in disappointment after losing Game 7 of their second-round series at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning the first two games, the Caps were one goal from taking a 3-0 series lead. Instead, the Penguins won the next three games and went on to take the series, and eventually the Stanley Cup.

The Caps' previous playoff run ended in similar fashion as they dropped Game 7 of their first-round series to the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime at the Verizon Center. Although Ovechkin later captured his second straight Hart Trophy to go along with his second straight Rocket Richard Trophy, it wasn't the hardware he was looking for.

"Doesn't matter who wins the Cup," said Ovechkin. "It matters we don't win the Cup. I'm always jealous of the team who wins the Cup. I hope (this) year it's going to be us."

That road to redemption starts Thursday in Boston (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS), against a Bruins team seeking its own playoff retribution. After finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins' season ended almost the same way the Caps' did -- losing in Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs on home ice.

"I think we did a really good job moving forward in the season and finishing first in the Eastern Conference," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "But a bitter end there. Losing Game 7 in overtime against Carolina I think leaves that bitter taste in your mouth and gives you a little bit of ammunition going into (this) season."

Speaking of ammunition, the Toronto Maple Leafs certainly look armed for battle thanks to the offseason acquisitions of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Colten Orr, Phil Kessel and Jonas Gustavsson.

That's a far cry from where the Leafs ended last season, when they missed the playoffs for a club-record fourth straight season. Going into their opener against Montreal on Thursday (7 p.m., CBC, RDS), GM Brian Burke has built a team reminiscent of his Stanley Cup winners in Anaheim -- tough and skilled, especially on defense.

The Montreal Canadiens also have retooled their roster. Gone from the last time the Canadiens took the ice are almost a dozen players, including long-time captain Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Alex Tanguay, Komisarek and Christopher Higgins.

In their place are Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and new coach Jacques Martin, all of whom will attempt to better the Canadiens' efforts of last season, when they were swept out of the first round of the playoffs.

One of the biggest changes from last season to this one comes in Colorado, where for the first time since the club moved to Denver, there will be no No. 19 in the locker room. Long-time team captain Joe Sakic announced his retirement over the summer, and Thursday's opener against the San Jose Sharks (10 p.m. ET, VERSUS) will see Sakic honored for his contributions to the franchise.

Even with Sakic, the Avalanche finished 15th in the Western Conference last season, and will depend heavily this season on Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk and rookie center Matt Duchene, the third pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.

While the Avs finished near the bottom of the West, the Sharks finished at the top, claiming the Presidents' Trophy. It didn't help them much in the postseason, however, as the Sharks were bounced in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks.

"Whenever you lose it's tough," said Joe Thornton. "With us, in years past our Achilles heel wasn't the first round, it's always been the second round. In that case it was a little bit tougher because we were excited after we had such a good year. To get bounced out early was a real shock to all of us. We were all set to go to the second round and get past that stumbling block. But now we couldn't get out of the first."

GM Doug Wilson re-tooled over the summer, adding two-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley in exchange for forwards Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, and handing the captaincy to defenseman Rob Blake.

The Calgary Flames also were playoff disappointments, going out in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks. Since we last saw the Flames, however they got bigger on the back end by trading for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

"Doesn't matter who wins the Cup. It matters we don't win the Cup. I'm always jealous of the team who wins the Cup. I hope (this) year it's going to be us."
-- Alex Ovechkin

Bouwmeester said one look at the core of the team makes him believe he's going to a Stanley Cup contender. "I think if you're going to a team built around the defense and goaltending, one of the best goalies in the League (Miikka Kiprusoff), and then you have Jarome Iginla, who is one of the top offensive guys in the League, and a great leader, so you know, it's an exciting place to play," he said.

Bouwmeester will have a chance right away to see where his team stands when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday (10 p.m. ET, CBC). The Canucks had their own playoff downer against Chicago, with the lasting memory of goaltender Roberto Luongo being lit up for seven goals in their final game.

"It's not easy to forget about it and in some way I don't," Luongo told "I kind of want to use it as motivation for this year. ... It was a tough thing to deal with, but at the same time I think it's going to help me grow and be stronger the next time it comes around."

To help Luongo the Canucks added more scoring up front by signing Mikael Samuelsson, and signing the Sedin twins. Luongo also received some financial help, signing a 12-year contract extension over the summer.

How much all these changes help these teams in their hunt to take home the Stanley Cup remains to be seen. But what we do know is last season is over and it's time to get back on the ice.

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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