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BRUINS 2, CANUCKS 1

Bruins tough it out

Work pays off in OT as Rolston finishes job

Oh, if only a Big Dig shovel full of nastiness, energy, and electricity could drop into every NHL arena. The game's too boring? Not enough goals? All they do is trap, chip the puck off the boards, grope at one another's sweaters as if they were in a bachelor party hunt for Britney Spears?

Not last night on FleetStreet.

Much to the pleasure of a full-house 17,565 (the first bang-out of the year) at the Vault, the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks put on an intense, dazzling show that ended with Brian Rolston's goal 4:15 into overtime for a 2-1 Boston victory. The win, their second in two nights and fourth in a row, lifted the Bruins into sole possession of first place in the overall NHL standings, 1 point ahead of the Canucks.

"It was really a good play by Mike," said Rolston, set up by a Mike Knuble pass after Ian Moran made a key play at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone. "Mike attacked the net, and both defenders went down . . . and I really didn't get a lot of wood on it."

But what do style points matter when your team is stashing points at its best clip in nearly 15 years?

The win extended the Bruins' streak to nine (6-0-1-2) consecutive games in which they've gained at least 1 point. For games without a loss in regulation, it's their best streak since going 8-0-1 in November 1989. In those nine games, they've picked up 15 of a possible 18 points.

"You play a team like Vancouver, it's a measuring stick for everyone," said Bruins coach Mike Sullivan. "We were against one of the league's elite teams, and I think our guys were challenged by it. And a packed house helped the cause, as far as the emotion involved."

Jason King scored for the Canucks, and Knuble had the second-period equalizer, his team-leading eighth.

But this was a night in which noting who potted the goals -- or even who won, lost, or tied, for that matter -- didn't seem as important, or as enjoyable, as simply watching two teams skate, claw, spit, elbow, and butt-end each other up and down 200 feet of ice.

When all the hue and cry comes up again -- as it does almost daily -- about not enough goals being scored in the NHL, the Lords of the Boards should reach for the videotape of last night's game.

When the game is played at its best, it's not really about goals. It's skating and hitting, and emotion and generating plays, and it's about having two teams on the ice that care about playing the game the way it was invented -- out on a frozen river, with one puck, a biting wind, and a dozen players ready to rock till they drop (could we thank the Dropkick Murphys, who performed after the game, for all this?).

King, who looks destined to finish in the top three in the rookie of the year balloting, put the Canucks on the board first with his power-play goal at 6:59 of the opening period. Boston's penalty killers, who had been a perfect 9 for 9 in the previous three games, broke down in their coverage a little when Nick Boynton was caught behind his net. King, with help from Daniel Sedin, made the easy sweep by Andrew Raycroft from near the right post.

The only time the Bruins put the puck in the net during regulation, and the officials also were willing to put it on the scoreboard, came with 10:42 gone in the second period when Knuble, parked in the slot, deflected in a wrister that Dan McGillis fired off from about 5 feet inside the blue line. After connecting for a career-high 30 goals last season, Knuble is on a pace that could bring him 40 in 2003-04.

Just a few minutes prior to Knuble's goal, around the 6:00 mark, the Bruins actually knocked in their first goal of the night at the end of a spellbinding bit of tic-tac-toe passing among Sergei Samsonov, Patrice Bergeron, and Joe Thornton. The display of Globetrotters sur glace ended with the Boston captain bashing in what looked like the 1-1 equalizer. But the goal was disallowed because the net had been knocked off its moorings when Jarkko Ruutu -- the night's No. 1 agitator -- slammed into his own goalie, Dan Cloutier.

"Quite honestly, I thought they went into the net on purpose," said Sullivan. "But, hey, we have to live with it."

All in all, it was by far the most entertaining night on Causeway Street in the first six weeks of the season. There were moments, espeically when Ruutu and Marty Lapointe were jawing, and later when Lapointe and Bryan Allen traded punches, when it resembled some of the old Bruins-Whalers hate matches.

Across the league, if the players and rules were in place to deliver just two of these games a month in each and every of the Original 30's rinks, it would be the greatest sport in the world. We have last night's one great game to prove it.

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