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ON HOCKEY

Bruins' new reasons to dream number four

This is getting tempting, even tantalizing at times. Fewer than three weeks into the hockey season, still with about 90 percent of the schedule to play, the Bruins are showing signs of perhaps their most significant kid-based talent boost since that October in 1979 when Ray Bourque and Brad McCrimmon bellied up to the crossbar.

Now if that got your attention, welcome to the 2003-04 NHL campaign, which is quickly taking shape as a new day for the sleepy-eyed hockey franchise on FleetStreet.

Sure, we've been teased before, like in the autumn of 1994 when Blaine Lacher showed flashes of brilliance in net. Three Octobers later, Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov arrived, amid much ballyhoo, much of it justified. Samsonov, the Magical Muscovite, turned out to be the league's rookie of the year, while the far-more-heralded Jumbo Joe managed a mere seven points in an Alexandre Daigle kind of struggling career start -- a career that followed in lockstep with Daigle's, point-wise, until as recently as Jan. '01.

In the spring of '88, Craig Janney and Bob Joyce came to town straight from Olympus and provided some spark. One Olympiad later, Joe Juneau did the same, choosing not to pursue a career in Switzerland after Boston boss Harry Sinden suggested Juneau first better learn to yodel.

Here in the fall of '03, the Bruins have Andrew Raycroft in net, Jeff Jillson on defense, and Patrice Bergeron and Sergei Zinovjev up front. Sure, like so many others, they could become Causeway castaways in the blink of an eye or, far more probable, the tussle of a contract negotiation. We've grown accustomed to fast starts, fizzled endings, busted dreams.

At the moment, though, all four newcomers have dyed-in-the-wool-sock Bruins fans wondering if this just might be the franchise's Burleson-Fisk-Lynn-Rice point in time.

Raycroft looks technically sound and unflappable in net. Jillson has the occasional lapse on "D," but not nearly as many faux pas as fine moments. Bergeron, ice-wise beyond his years, already has seven points in nine games -- the equal to what Thornton tallied in 55 rookie-season games at the same age (18).

And then there is Zinovjev (Zin-ov-yev), who made a dazzling debut in Saturday night's 5-2 win over New Jersey, accenting the night with a cool-handed dish across the slot to linemate Samsonov for a sensational, not to mention winning, goal. For those old enough to remember, it was a moment reminiscent of the Derek Sanderson-Bobby Orr ice capades when they first teamed up in the fall of '67.

OK, that's really getting ahead of ourselves, if for no other reason than the fact that Orr's kind of talent comes around only once in a league's history. Any Orr comparison, no matter how tangential, automatically brings a writer before the Professional Hockey Writers Association review board. But the Samba of the Sergeis Saturday night had that tiny touch of magic to it, and Samsonov followed it up with a Moscow-to-Siberia (four hours by plane) smile -- shades of wonder and high jinks and outright amusement -- that had to send Baby Boomers drifting back to their Big Bad Bruins days.

Question: How many of you, mid-40s and older, saw Samsonov's huge grin and remembered that this once was a team that smiled all the time? It hasn't looked like that much fun for a very, very long time.

By opening night, the new-look Bruins were enough to detect that a market correction had taken place over the summer. Now with the skilled Zinovjev aboard, and coach Mike Sullivan looking as if he's considering the possibility of the steady-and-sound Raycroft being The Guy in net, there are hints here that the bear could become a bull.

It is easy to be skeptical, in fact far easier than to be analytical and, in turn, optimistic. Noah could fill two arks with the promising young bulls who failed here in recent years past.

Mattias Timander was going to be a prize on defense.

Oh, the things Shayne Stevenson was going to do (oh, and some of the things he did, but not on the ice).

By the way, what do you hear from Fred Knipscheer? Or Clayton Beddoes? Or Sandy Moger?

Mother Russia has given us Samsonov and Zinovjev, but she also stuck it to the Hub of Hockey with Evgeny Ryabchikov, Grigori Panteleev, and Denis Chervyakov.

Was it Anders Wilson and Landon Myrvold, or Landon Wilson and Anders Myrvold? In all the excitement, it was hard to keep track, wasn't it? Just ask Rob Cimetta.

All of a sudden, here we are, with no fewer than four new faces in the lineup who look capable of sticking around for a while and making an impact. If this keeps up, will the NHL demand an investigation, maybe a recount?

Imagine what it would mean if the 23-year-old Raycroft could be a franchise goalie. Or if Bergeron, the No. 45 pick in the 2003 draft, had the impact that, say, Stephane Richer, the 29th pick in the '84 draft, once had on the Canadiens? What if Jillson could just be what the Bruins thought they were getting in Johnathan Aitken when they made him the No. 8 pick in the '96 draft? Or if Saturday night were only the first frame in what turns out to be a Zinovjev-Samsonov kind of Lewis-and-Martin highlight film.

No telling how all this will play out. There is still a ton of hockey to go. In recent years, that might have sounded like a sentence. But with the Fab Four aboard for the Bruins, you never know; we could be talkin' about a revolution.

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