For Bruins, the Real Regular Season Starts Tonight Against Lightning

The Bruins did what they set out to at the start of the hockey year, and now the real season gets going.

They battled through adversity, a few injuries and a quick summer turnover coming off the Stanley Cup Final run to get off to a 5-1-0 start to the regular season, and sit near the top of the Atlantic Division right out of the gate.

But let's be honest. There hasn't been a lot of sizzle to any of these early season games. They dispatched a bunch of teams out west to start the year, and then they completely outclassed the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks on home ice to start their TD Garden schedule.

But Thursday is when the real season begins. The Bruins will host last year's NHL Presidents' Trophy winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Thursday night and then they will play the Toronto Maple Leafs in a home-and-home series that's sure to stir up the rivalry embers.

As if that isn't enough, the Bruins will then finish with a home date against the St. Louis Blues just a few months after their highly physical, fierce seven-game Stanley Cup Final series back in June. In strictly technical terms, these next four games simply represent 4.8 percent of the 82-game regular season schedule.

But in terms of importance, the Black and Gold are expecting a significant, noticeable raise in the level of intensity after simply playing "okay" while winning five of their first six games to start the regular season.

"I think they would amp up [over the next few games]. They certainly will on our side. Knowing our group, we're a competitive group. Toronto to me is definitely a rivalry, and that goes back to the Original Six and a number of playoff matchups over the years," said Bruce Cassidy. "I would like to think we'll be better for 60 minutes over the next three games because of what's at stake with a divisional rival, and the familiarity there with the energy level going up.

"You don't need to explain how many times we play them and how we've played them in the playoffs. That's naturally going to evolve. [The game vs. Tampa] will definitely be a measuring stick game for us. Every time we play them we need to be at our best because they're at the top of the division every year. We look at it certainly as a bigger challenge than on some other nights."

The rematch against St. Louis next week certainly speaks for itself, and the early season home-and-home against the Maple Leafs will be something that sets a tone between those two hockey clubs for the entirety of the season. Never mind that Boston has ended Toronto's season in the first round in each of the last two postseasons, or that the Lightning, Leafs and Bruins are once again expected to be a three-team Battle Royale at the top of the Atlantic again this season.

These will finally be some hockey games with emotion, energy and even a little good, old-fashioned hatred that's been missing to this point in the early season. 

"They are big games. Especially the first time you see them in a season you want to set the tone," said Torey Krug. "It's a rivalry game, in division and guys that we've seen in the playoffs over the last couple of years. You have to be excited about these matchups.

"I would hope both teams are [treating it as a measuring stick]. We're playing pretty well and both [Tampa and Toronto] would like to be off to better starts than they have had. We both just want to line up, go punch-for-punch and see where we all stand up at the end of the night."

It's in these intense, well-matched divisional games where Boston's top-heavy offense and their case of second-period ennui is going to catch up them if they're not careful over the next week of hockey.

The out-of-conference wins for the Bruins at the start of the year have been important, and will come in handy when/if the Bruins hit the wall a little bit later in the season. But the ultra-important, divisional points will now start being up for grabs starting Thursday night against Tampa, and these next few games will give us the real read as to where Boston's game is at this point very early in the NHL regular season.

Preview: Bruins vs Lightning>>>>>

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