BOSTON (CBS) – With the start of the preseason Wednesday night, it’s time to take a look at the top Eastern Conference teams that will give your Boston Bruins their fair share of difficulties this year.

Tampa Bay leads it all off. We all saw what they could do last year, finishing number 2 in the East and nearly knocking the Bruins out of their Cup run. Well they’re back and they’re good. Here are three reasons why Tampa will be a legitimate threat to the Black and Gold this year.

1. The Heads of State Are Back

Steve Yzerman is still the general manager. Steve who? Steve Yzerman, the two-time Stanley Cup Champion,  23-year NHL veteran, Hall of Fame captain. That’s who.  The man knows the game. In his first season with the Lightning, the team made it to the Eastern Conference Finals defeating both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins on their way.

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Secondly, the evil genius Guy Boucher returns. Systematically, Boucher is one of NHL’s best coaches.  Remember all of that 1-3-1 stuff?  It’ll be back this year along with plenty of new tricks I’m sure.

2.  The Signing

During the off-season, the Lightning  signed Steven Stamkos, one of the NHL’s top players, to a five-year deal. Over the past two seasons, Stamkos scored a total of 96 goals and has a total of 181 points. If his style of play continues, and there’s no indication that it won’t, he could potentially have a 50 goal season and help lead the Bolts in another deep playoff run.

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3.   Talent Talent Talent

We already mentioned Stamkos as being a high-end player for the Lightning but it doesn’t stop there. Whatever you saw in last years’ Eastern Conference bout will carry over into the 2011-2012 season.  For the most part, the core is still there.  Both Martin St. Louis (31-68-99) and Vincent Lecavalier (25-29-54) will once again join Stamkos on the 1st line.  Furthermore, Teddy Purcell (17-34-51), Steve Downie (10-22-32 in 57 games), Ryan Malone (14-24-38) and Dominic Moore (18-14-32) are all back and ready to play into whatever scheme Boucher has lined up for them.

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Although the team is strong, there are also several reasons why Tampa Bay shouldn’t be seen as the top threat to the Bruins.

To start, their regular season record against the Bruins hasn’t been great. Over the past three years, the two teams met a total of 12 times. Boston took 9 out of those 12 games.

Furthermore, the Lightning might not have the fire power. They lost their infamous Bruins killer Simon Gagne to free agency. Ryan Malone, the14-goal scoring left-winger went through off-season shoulder surgery. Although it seems like he’s recovered, there still might be some rust to his game.

Finally, the team’s defense isn’t great. Roloson is back and will have to defy the age factor once again, which may prove to be difficult at 42. The team can be scored on and as long as Thomas and Tukka do their job, then the Lightning can be beat.

Although there are elements that are working against Tampa Bay, they will still be a thorn in the neck of this Bruins during this upcoming season.

Coming Thursday: The Montreal Canadiens

Follow Mark Feldman on Twitter @mfsports21

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