BOSTON (AP) -In just one season as coach of the Boston Bruins, Claude Julien has brought stability to a struggling franchise. They made the playoffs but now their goals are greater.
They want to win a postseason series.
"Our young players developed probably above expectations because of the circumstances that we had last year, because of the injuries," Julien said. "We're looking forward to taking steps in the right direction again. We need to be better than we were last year. That's a must."
The Bruins open their season with a four-game road trip starting Thursday night at the Colorado Avalanche. Their home opener is Oct. 20 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For a change, there is a sense of continuity around the team.
The Bruins finished last in the Northeast Division both in 2005-06 under Mike Sullivan and in 2006-07 in Dave Lewis' only season as coach, a season marked by substantial player turnover.
Julien took over after Lewis was fired before last season and led the Bruins into the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens.
There was substantial progress, though, considering Julien inherited a mediocre defense and lost offensive star Patrice Bergeron for the season with a serious concussion Oct. 27 when he was driven face-first into the end boards by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones.
The defense is solid and Julien can focus more on the offense.
"I like the way our defense is obviously adjusting to supporting the attack," he said. "I like the fact that we've had more scoring chances, and again, everything's pointing in the right direction and hopefully everything will fall into place by game one."
Bergeron is back and rookie forward Blake Wheeler, the fifth pick in the 2004 draft, made the team with an outstanding training camp. The Bruins also added veteran forwards Michael Ryder and Stephane Yelle.
"Getting Bergeron back, he's a big piece, and we got Michael Ryder," said center Marc Savard, the Bruins leading scorer last season. "What we are known for now is being a solid team defensively and working hard every night. So, hopefully, more goals come. But as long as we get wins, that is the bottom line."
The defense includes captain Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart, Andrew Alberts and Shane Hnidy. All were with the Bruins last season.
Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, who was sidelined most of last season, are the goaltenders, with promising Tuukka Rask, who had a strong camp, waiting his turn with Providence of the AHL.
"Just adding those guys that we missed last year for most of the season, to have them be here, it's a big plus," Chara said.
The most important returning player is Bergeron.
Just 23 years old, he had three goals and four assists in 10 games last season, following seasons in which he had 31 goals in 2005-06 and 22 in 2006-07. In 239 career games, the center has 72 goals and 117 assists.
After working out in the summer then playing in six exhibition games, he feels he's met his expectations for himself.
"I needed some time to get my rhythm back," he said. "I think that I'm playing the way I want to play, but I know I can be better, and it's just a matter of taking the time to do it."
Missing almost all last season, "made me appreciate the game even more," Bergeron said.
Julien sees Bergeron and Fernandez almost as new acquisitions since they played very little.
"I don't think there's any goaltender in this league (who) can play 82 games, so having two good goaltenders like we have puts us in a position of strength," Julien said. "It's nice to see Manny feeling comfortable and not having to go through some of those injury issues."
After last season's improvement, opponents may take the Bruins more seriously, second-year forward Milan Lucic said.
"I think it's going to make us have to work harder," he said. "In the end, I think it is a good thing for us."