If you’re a Bruins fan of a certain age, the first thing you usually did when you got the new B’s schedule in the summer was scan the grid to find the first home game against the Montreal Canadiens. If you’re the adventurous type, then you’d look for the first opportunity for the north-of-the-border road trip.
Well, all you have to do is look out you’re window to know it’s not summer. You only need a pulse to know this isn’t your normal hockey season. And for the first time in forever, the B’s won’t be playing the hated Habs, at least not in the regular season.
But with COVID-induced realignment on tap, some newer rivalries — and maybe some old ones that will easily be rekindled await.
The NHL on Wednesday released its new schedule in which each team will play 56 games in a 116-day span. The B’s — in a temporary East division with the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Sabres, Penguins, Capitals and Flyers — will open up on the road in New Jersey on Jan. 14.
The B’s do not play at TD Garden, which is not expected to be allowed to host fans at the start of the season, until Jan. 21 when the Flyers come to town.
There has been some bad blood with both the Flyers and Penguins over the years, but perhaps the most natural rival would be the Rangers. Not only are the two cities geographically close, but the teams were bitter rivals in the late 1960s and ’70s. Wednesday, in fact, was the anniversary of Terry O’Reilly, Mike Milbury and crew climbing into the stands at Madison Square Garden to do battle with New York fans. Eight games against the Blueshirts, or any team for that matter, should bring out the best and worst in these teams.
“Yeah, I don’t think it will take long to get those rivalries built up,” said team president Cam Neely on Monday. “Obviously there’s history between Boston and the Rangers for years. When they play here, we play there, there’s a lot of fans of both teams. I think the recent history we’ve had with Philly in the playoffs, that will spark some rivalry. I mean playing these teams that many times, guys will be sick of each other in a hurry.”
To cut down on travel, the teams will mostly play two-game series against each, with a few single games sprinkled in. The first B’s-Rangers matchup will take place on Feb. 10 at MSG and then close the season on Causeway Street on May 6 and 8.
Hopefully by then, we’ll able to hear the competing chants from Rangers and B’s fans that we’re used to hearing when the two teams tangle.
Some B’s fans may have been happy to dodge the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the regular season this year as the Bolts are in a “Central” division with the Panthers, Predators, Red Wings, Blue Jackets, Stars, Hurricanes and Blackhawks.
The Lightning announced Wednesday that their superstar Nikita Kucherov would have to undergo hip surgery and miss the entire regular season. It was a bad news/good news type of announcement. The Bolts, who had been well over the salary cap, can now put Kucherov’s $9.5 million on long-term injured reserve and sign their fine two-way centerman Anthony Cirelli, who was an RFA.
While there no doubt will be howls about circumvention if Kucherov is ready for the playoffs — when the salary cap restrictions go out the window — Tampa would surely prefer that its best player not go under hip surgery.
Still, it could line up nicely for the Bolts.
Zdeno Chara’s agent Matt Keator said that the Bruins and he remain communicative, but that the two sides are no closer to a deal. Chara’s focus is still to remain with Boston, said Keator. The two sides need to find common ground on a role for the long-time captain, and that has not happened yet.
The Bruins announced that David Pastrnak has donated the car he won as the NHL All-Star game MVP last winter to Tufts Medical Center nurse Kaitlin Hagstrom. Not a bad Christmas present for a deserving front-line health worker.
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