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Boston
Bruins
35-41-6
Florida
Panthers
35-31-16

37 SOG
38 SOG
1st2nd3rdT
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FLA
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Bruins-Panthers Preview

Friday, 10.06.2006 / 7:30 PM

Associated Press

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Bruins-Panthers Preview
Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers

The Boston Bruins, with a new general manager, coach and captain, are hoping a myriad of offseason changes lead to the team winning a playoff series for the first time since 1999.

The Florida Panthers also reshaped their roster in an attempt to qualify for the postseason for the first time in six years.

Both teams can get started on ending those droughts when the Panthers host the Bruins on Friday in their season opener.

Long considered a franchise unwilling to spend the money it takes to win, Boston reversed directions this offseason, lavishing money at big-name free agents and bringing in new management determined to help the Bruins recover from last season's debacle.

After winning two Northeast Division titles in three years before the NHL lockout, the Bruins (29-37-16) finished last in the division in 2005-06 with only 74 points.

Boston beat Carolina 4-2 in the first round of the 1998-99 playoffs, but has since lost four series in a row.

General manager Mike O'Connell was fired in March and coach Mike Sullivan was let go shortly after the season, replaced by Peter Chiarelli and Dave Lewis, respectively.

Boston then signed 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara to a five-year, $37.5 million contract and center Marc Savard to a four-year, $20 million deal. Chara was named Bruins captain this week and already has impressed his new teammates with his work ethic.

"The whole environment's changed," Chara said. "But it's a team game. You can't just pick one guy and say, 'This guy is going to change everything in a day.' It's not going to happen overnight. We're going to have to work hard."

Chara had 16 goals and 27 assists for the Senators while Savard recorded a career-high 97 points for Atlanta. Both will need to provide production in front of goalies Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen, who waged a battle in training camp to replace the departed Andrew Raycroft.

Thomas will start against Florida, but it's possible the two could split the job until one goaltender establishes himself.

"We're all looking forward to the season," said Bruins forward Glen Murray, who has 135 goals over the past four seasons. "With all the new faces around, it's refreshing. Everyone's got a little hop in their step."

After growing tired of watching his team continually miss the playoffs, Florida GM Mike Keenan brought in several new faces, then promptly resigned on Sept. 3, leaving coach Jacques Martin to handle both jobs.

The Panthers (37-34-11) made a run at a playoff spot last season and finished with 85 points, their best total since recording 98 in 1999-2000. The team made the playoffs that season, and hasn't been back since.

Florida made a big splash over the summer, dealing All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo to Vancouver for forward Todd Bertuzzi and goalie Alex Auld.

Bertuzzi needed a change of scenery after a difficult year and a half with the Canucks. He was suspended in March 2004 for punching Colorado's Steve Moore in the head and driving him into the ice, breaking three vertebrae in Moore's neck.

Bertuzzi played all 82 games in 2005-06, but only had 71 points and was a minus-17.

"When it comes down to it, as you get older, you want to win championships and be on winning teams," Bertuzzi said. "I think that's what everyone's focus has to be. It's not about me."

Auld won 33 games for Vancouver last season, posting a 2.94 goals-against average in his first extended action in the NHL. His likely backup is 41-year-old Ed Belfour, who had surgery in April to repair a herniated disc and signed a one-year deal in July.

Belfour has 457 career victories, second to Patrick Roy on the NHL's all-time list.

"This team has changed a lot," said Panthers center Olli Jokinen, who had career highs of 38 goals and 89 points last season. "This year, I feel comfortable. I think we've got all the tools to be a playoff team."

The Panthers and Bruins split four meetings last season.

2006-2007 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Feb 24 '07BOS 2 at FLA 7N. Horton
Dec 16 '06FLA 6 at BOS 3J. Stumpel
Nov 20 '06FLA 3 at BOS 2J. Nieuwendyk
Oct 06 '06BOS 3 at FLA 8J. Nieuwendyk
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