At a glance: After a lockout that lasted almost four months and robbed NHL fans of almost half the regular season, hockey is back with an Original Six matchup between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Rust will be a factor, as all teams had only six days of training camp to prepare for what promises to be an intense, whirlwind 48-game schedule. But this should be a high-energy, physical game to kick the season off right.
Top teams: The Opening Day faceoff between the Blueshirts and B's features two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers captured the top spot in the East after a tremendous 109-point regular season last year, while the Bruins finished second. Both teams won their respective divisions, and are projected to challenge for titles again in 2013. Both squads boast a formidable first line as well. The Rangers will have veteran center Brad Richards between Carl Hagelin and Rick Nash while Boston will line up Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin as their top trio.
Blue debut: Star winger Rick Nash, who had spent his entire career in Columbus after being selected first overall in the 2002 draft, will don a Rangers jersey for the first time Saturday night, in his first game since being shipped to New York in a blockbuster deal this summer. Nash, who has registered five consecutive seasons with 30 goals or more, suffered minor injuries while playing overseas in Switzerland during the lockout, but says he is healthy and ready to play when the puck drops at 7 p.m.
Tuukka’s the top guy: With controversial netminder Tim Thomas’ time in Boston over, Tuukka Rask will be the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender for the lockout-shortened 48-game season. Rask, 25, played 23 games last season behind Thomas and posted impressive numbers -- a 2.05 goals against average and .929 save percentage -- but has never had to shoulder the responsibility of being the team’s go-to guy. He’ll face his first major test as he squares off against reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in net.
Kreider returns: Chris Kreider, the 21-year-old winger who set the NHL ablaze with a remarkable playoff performance as a thrown-into-the-fire rookie, returns to Boston for the first time in his professional career. Why so special? Kreider led Boston College to a national championship last spring and is expecting a significant cheering section Saturday at TD Garden.
Teach me how to Dougie: Former first-round pick (ninth overall in 2011) Dougie Hamilton will play in his first professional game Saturday for the Bruins. The 19-year-old defenseman registered eight goals and 33 assists in 32 games with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, and Boston hopes he can make the daunting jump from juniors to the pros without too many growing pains. Said Bruins coach Claude Julien: “The only weakness that he has is his lack of experience and we’ve got to allow him to get that.”
All in the family: Joining Hamilton in making his professional debut will be 26-year-old Chris Bourque, son of Bruins legend Ray Bourque. The Boston native spent 32 games with the AHL's Providence Bruins this season and will open on the team's third line with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Chris is also the older brother of Ryan Bourque, a Rangers prospect currently playing with the AHL's Connecticut Whale.