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January 18, 2013

Rask takes torch from Thomas as Bruins return

(Continued)

Another player who could benefit from the conditioning was Tyler Seguin, who played in Switzerland after an NHL season in which he led Boston with 29 goals and 67 points last season. In and out of the lineup as a rookie in 2010-11, when the Bruins won it all, the former No. 2 overall draft pick played in the 2012 All-Star game in Ottawa and signed a six-year, $34 million contract just before the lockout.

“We’ve said all along this guy has unlimited potential,” Julien said. “And I think what you’re seeing now is the more confidence he has, the better he is. And I think at one point as a young player, you’re coming in playing with men and it could be intimidating, especially along the boards and when you meet up with people like Zdeno and stuff. But now certainly he’s a lot more confident going after pucks and protecting it and his confidence is at the level there where I think he’s going to take another step forward.”

The Bruins also signed forward Brad Marchand to a four-year deal and Milan Lucic to a three-year extension in the days before the four-month lockout that shortened the season to 48 games.

Boston won the Northeast Division by 10 points last season and had the No. 2 seed in the East before losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games, in overtime, in the first round of the playoffs. That was a disappointing title defense, which the Bruins hope to compensate for this year.

They could have a tougher road in the conference, with Ottawa remaining solid and Buffalo attempting to get tougher over the extended offseason. Along with last year’s late-season acquisition of center Cody Hodgson, the Sabres added center Steve Ott and wing John Scott to a team that missed the playoffs in 2012.

“I think it’s going to add to the rivalries that are already there, and also the competitiveness,” Lucic said. “There are only two teams that made the playoff last year from our division. ... And with less games I think it’s going to create a much tougher battle for that first seed in the Northeast Division.”

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