A little bit of touch, a whole lot of emotion, and faster than you could wiggle on your paisley bellbottoms, press your nehru jacket and dust off that May 10, 1970 picture of Bobby Orr flying through the air, the Bruins last night had Causeway Street shaking like the old days. Dare we say it -- this could be the year?
Fine, OK, three periods of early-April hockey do not a Stanley Cup make. No reminders necessary. The Bruins are now officially 15 victories shy of a championship, along with three other clubs this morning. It is indeed a very long haul to the title round at the end of May, and we've seen enough hairpin U-turns the last 33 years to know it can be a very long haul to the end of the first round.
Just a few final words of caution here: too many men on the ice. Oh, that championship feeling.
But there was just that certain je ne sais quoi in the way the Bruins thoroughly eliminated the Canadiens, 3-0, at the Vault. It was way beyond convincing. It was downright dominating, and even a little humiliatin' for the Habs. Witness: the Bruins held a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes, and they also had a near-mesmerizing 23-9 shot lead.
That's 23 shots. Here in the dead-puck, trap-happy days of the NHL, 23 shots can be a fortnight's production for a lot of clubs in the Original 30. The Bruins also allowed the Devils only one shot in the first period Sunday, when they needed a win to clinch the Northeast title. It sure looks as if they may have found a way to shake their slow-start doldrums.
"I told our players after the first period," said rookie coach Mike Sullivan, "that might not only have been our best first period all year -- it might have been our best period all year."
Club owner Jeremy Jacobs was in the house, beaming over the sellout crowd of 17,565, and the only thing possibly more surreal after 20 minutes would have been for The Chairman to bellow from his box, "Barkeep, my finest whiskey, and a round for the house!"
That day isn't likely to come on Causeway, but you never know. Jacobs is talking more than ever these days, and shook enough out of his pockets last month for general manager Mike O'Connell to hire on ex-Capitals Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander, both of whom figured in each of those first-period goals.
The second goal, an even-strength strike by Nylander, was the prettiest of the three. Fronting the net, and glancing over his left shoulder, he was prepared for a blistering slap pass that Gonchar fired down from the high slot. With a slight lift and turn of his stickblade, he redirected the puck high over a totally defenseless Jose Theodore. Try 10,000 of those in your backyard and maybe three even land on net, never mind in it.
"I know he sees me there," said Nylander. "And he can either shoot it on net, or pass it to me. I've been missing those, and when I do, he's hard on me. He tells me to keep my stick down."
How does Nylander respond to his critique.
"I say, `Just hit my stick.' "
The first encouraging sign was evident before the drop of the opening faceoff. Joe Thornton, who missed the weekend games because of an injured something (an apparent rib injury, although details still held tighter than Dr. Rice's imminent testimony), skated in the warmup. He also took the opening draw. As soon as his name was announced, the sellout crowd let out its first shriek of the night.
Thornton, some flow and force noticeably missing from his game, was 0 for 4 on faceoffs in the first period, but he won 7 of 10 over the next 40 minutes. Jumbo did not record a shot, and his ice time (14:35) was roughly discounted by a third from his season norm (21:38). He's hurting.
"He's our captain. He's our leader. He's a big part of our team," said Sullivan, enumerating Thornton's assets. "We want him in our lineup. On the same side of the coin, we wanted to make sure it was in the best interests of Joe." Two years earlier, when the Bruins were seeded No. 1 in the East and the Habs No. 8, the series blew up in Boston's face because of undisciplined, helter-skelter play, especially in its own end. Netminder Byron Dafoe took all the heat for that, but his defensemen were of at least equal culpability. The defense and discipline around Andrew Raycroft were infinitely better here in Game 1, and the steady Raycroft looked like a world-beater.
"I think we learned our lesson the last couple of years, when we were undisclipined," said veteran forward Brian Rolston.
And within that, a constant reminder.
"They've got a lot of great forwards who can hurt you if you turn it over in the neutral zone," said Rolston.
There was none of that old lesson here last night. The question now, barkeep, can they make it a double?