The Bruins, fresh from a 268-day respite, opened their 2013 season Saturday night with an impressive 3-1 win over the Rangers in which they played most of the night with a lead, tilted the ice their way about 70 percent of the time, committed precious few errors, and otherwise made the Blueshirts far bluer and blander than most of their recent visits to Causeway Street.
“Give them credit,’’ said Ranger coach John Tortorella, noting play too often was at the Ranger end of the building. “They’re a pretty good hockey club.’’
As 268-day respites go, not bad. In fact, downright impressive. Had it been 60 minutes the Bruins presented midway through a normal season — which is where they should be right now, if programming hadn’t been so rudely interrupted by a backroom knife fight — sports talk radio today would be anointing them as locks for the Cup final.
Well, maybe. Just as no one wins the Cup in October, no one’s winning it in January, the launching point of this lockout-shortened, hair-pulling, thumb-twiddling, owner-hatin’ season.
For first attempts, it was a dandy from the Black-and-Gold perspective and that of the sellout collection of 17,565 loyalists. Milan Lucic, Danny Paille, and Johnny Boychuk potted the goals. Shawn Thornton and Greg Campbell won both fights (only three seconds apart), and newcomers Dougie Hamilton and Chris “Son of 77’’ Bourque fit in as if a veteran used tweezers to drop them like a pair of tiny emeralds into a diamond ring setting. With the night all but over, Bourque nearly topped off his Boston debut with an empty-net goal. A deflection off a Ranger stick saw his attempt sail high over the net and right off the scoresheet.
“Yeah, well,’’ said the the plucky former BU winger, flashing his old man’s slight smile, “I guess I’ve got to have a goalie in there.’’
Nothing like a couple of fights to reengage a hockey audience left starving for hockey for the nine months since the Bruins were eliminated by Washington in Round 1 of the playoffs. Moments after the Rangers cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period, Ranger monolith Michael Rupp tried to build off the morsel of momentum by taking on Thornton. Right idea, wrong result. Thornton scored the takedown, Rupp’s nose bloodied in the process.
“He was asking me about that later,’’ said Thornton, who refined his fight game during the lockout with jujitsu lessons at . . . wait for it . . . Wild Buffalo Jujitsu in Medford. “I don’t know what happened, if I got [Rupp] with a jab, or what. Felt good to get the first one in, though.’’
Three seconds after Thornton and Rupp went to their respective penalty boxes, Greg Campbell threw down with Stu Bickel. Another win for the team in the black trunks. And those inside the Causeway Street gym drank it all in as if each shot were being poured from their own cornerman’s bottle.
The Bruins have been doing business since the fall of 1924, and 89 years later, spanning a Great Depression, a World War, and a half-dozen championships, the fights still register as much glee as the goals. And so it goes.
Equally as decisive, and actually more impressive, was Boston’s work in the offensive zone. The Bruins were consistently assertive with the puck, be it with shots at net, or getting to corners, or simply applying the forecheck. They didn’t win every one-on-one battle, but they won most of them, as well as most (60 percent) of the faceoffs. Leading the way at the dot: Patrice Bergeron (12 for 17) and Chris Kelly (11 for 16). Bergeron’s best work on the drops led directly to the third goal, pickpocketing Brad Richards in the right wing circle and pulling it back to Boychuk. The veteran Boston center then moved to the right post and applied the screen for Boychuk’s net-seeing wrister.
“You want to get it off quickly,’’ said Boychuk, repeating coach Claude Julien’s mantra. “They’re a good team at blocking shots, so you try to avoid giving them that chance.’’
Equally key was Boston’s killing off a 5-on-3 power play that the Rangers gained when Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara were tossed in the box for minors only 30 seconds apart early in the third period. Precision penalty killing limited the Rangers to but two weak attempts, and a Rick Nash hook took the Blueshirts out the remaining 20 seconds of the runover 5-on-4. Moments after the Nash minor expired, Boychuk connected for the 3-1 jawbreaker.
Overall, easy pickings for new No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask, who faced only 21 shots, never more than eight in a period. Can he take over where Tim Thomas left off as the franchise puck stopper? Heck, when play is forever at the other end, Surfin’ John Blue or Jon Casey and the Amazing Technicolor Five Hole could get it done.
“Yeah, pretty easy night for me,’’ said Rask. “It can be a little tough when you’re not facing many shots, but overall, not a lot of work. The guys did a great job.’’
Including Hamilton, who late in the action positioned himself perfectly to thwart a shot at the open right post as the Rangers buzzed two forwards around Rask. Hamilton logged 13:40 in his debut, landed three shots, and overall played a calm, smart game.
“In some ways, this was easier than junior,’’ said the redheaded rook. “The pace didn’t bother me, because I’d practiced with some of the best players in the world here for a week. And everyone’s so smart, always where they’re supposed to be, so the game just makes more sense.’’
Sounds logical. In a season nearly lost because logic appeared to have left the room, it all added up for the Bruins.