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Silence is (black) and golden

DALLAS - What I am about to tell you, dear reader, cannot leave this page. We must have an understanding up front if I am to continue. Not a word to anyone, especially back home, where, I understand, all eyes, ears, hearts, and wallets - especially the wallets - last night were attached to Fenway Park.

We're good with this, right? Thanks. Knew I could count on you.

Here is the single-most sensitive part of the story: The Bruins opened their 2007-08 season here last night against the Stars.

Shhh! Please, again, I beg you, don't let anyone else know that. Remember . . . cannot . . . leave . . . this . . . page.

Now, honestly, I must insist on this confidence for my own health and safety, now that I have officially been assigned to the Globe's Covert Operations/Hockey unit. I am, as we say in Covert Ops, at risk here. But I also have your well-being in mind, too. I know what you're thinking, but it's not just about me. Uh-uh.

I fear you could be at your kid's soccer game this afternoon, or getting the car serviced down at Quick-eee!-lube, and in a mindless, carefree moment, the words "Bruins game" could slip from your tongue. Well, just like that, my cover's blown, gone, faster than Janet Jackson's Super Bowl wardrobe.

Worse, you could go on to mention the Bruins were in Dallas last night, starting the season. Oh, boy, slippery slope there, my blabbermouthed friend.

Next, and here's where it gets more than a little frightening, you may tell one of your soccer friends, or maybe Fred, the mechanic at Quick-eee!-lube, the score. Which would mean, yes, you remained engaged long enough last night on NESN, WBZ, or to actually learn about the 4-1 loss to the Stars. Even worse, you committed it to memory.

We would be busted . . . so . . . totally . . . busted. I would be out of work and you would be the subject of endless ridicule, the butt of all jokes, in your neighborhood and among all colleagues and friends. Take it from one who knows. It's true.

Yes, it's harder and harder to keep a secret these days, isn't it? But that's why I know I can count on you, kind soul. I know, by virtue of the fact you've made it down here to paragraph No. 10 of the KPD Covert Operations/Hockey report from "Big D" (how I love code names) that you and I have created a hockey "Cone of Silence" that would be sure to bring a smile to Maxwell Smart's kisser.

Right you are there, chief.

I also know that I can risk slipping this Covert Operations report from "Big D" (did I mention I love code names, almost as much as nicknames?) under the eyes of a few hundred thousand readers, and not get caught, because I know what it's like back there in the Hub of Hockey.

Yes, I was there at the Garden a couple of Saturdays ago when only 100 people, ushers included, milled about the TDBNG stands, like stray sheep from a 4-H convention, for warm-ups prior to the Bruins-Maple Leafs exhibition.

I was still there (again, I remind you, not a word!) when only some 5,000 customers had made it though the turnstiles by the end of the night.

Hockey is beyond being at an all-time low in the Hub. The Bruins, instead, are in an out-and-out struggle to remain relevant, remain in the city's sporting consciousness enough at least to be talk-show fodder, if only for the sake of ridicule.

The iconic film "Casablanca" comes to mind, where the ever-intrusive Ugarte (bug-eyed Peter Lorre) says to Rick (Humphrey Bogart), the dismissive American bar owner, "You despise me, don't you?" And an unmoved Rick responds, "If I gave you any thought, I probably would."

What are you thinking these days, Bruins fans? Is it to the point you despise the team you once loved?

Maybe you've all become Rick Blaines.

"We have a lot to prove," noted veteran defenseman Aaron Ward yesterday morning. "As much as you understand Boston is a critical town . . . you have champions like the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots . . . you have the [allure] of the Celtics with [Larry] Bird, [Danny] Ainge, and [Kevin] McHale . . . you can accept the fact that the city has the right to be critical. But to a point."

That point, that limit, said Ward, can be reached only by success.

"As a player," he added, "you want to take that step where you offer them no reason to be critical. You want them to come along for the ride, rather than [be] expecting negativity. So we as Boston Bruins and players . . . not only do we want to represent ourselves well, but we kind of want to get the monkey off our back with our fans."

Wins, totaling 40 or more in this 82-game season, would go a long way in removing that hairy-primate onus. But there is more to it than simply posting W's, especially in Boston, a city that grew up loving the Stanley Cups of long ago (1970 and 1972).

Even before the victories came, though, the fans fell in love with a team that scrapped and fought, got dirty and bloody, crafted an identity around toughness and determination. Winning back then was a wonderful residue of a much larger entertainment package.

Later, even with Bobby Orr and the winning gone, Boston fans loved their Lunch Pail Gangs of the late-'70s and early-'80s. Part of the fan exodus in recent years is because of the fact the Bruins fell, or were forced, into a league mind-set that lunch pails are for losers.

Who the heck needs a ham-and-cheese sandwich and a Thermos of steamin' joe when hockey fans crave speed, finesse, and artistry on ice? By and large, the Bruins fell into lockstep with the mantra, but never had the skill - be it on the ice or in the front office - to play that kind of game. And who ever said Boston hockey fans ever wanted all the finesse stuff in the first place?

Which leads us, many losses and mind-numbing roster moves later, to last night's season-opener. The Bruins looked OK, but not great, and might have made it a better debut if new goalie Manny Fernandez had been sharper on a couple, especially strikes three and four by Brenden Morrow and Sergei Zubov. Not a good start by the former Wild No. 1.

Most encouraging over the 60 minutes was Boston's overall game structure. The Bruins forechecked fairly well, a significant upgrade over last season. They were also quicker and smarter in their own end, not nearly as bottled up as last season. Overall, they weren't great, in fact, far from it, but at least they weren't the laughingstock that showed up in Sunrise, Fla., for last season's 8-3 opening loss to the Panthers.

"It's up to us," said new coach Claude Julien, going over his final preparations late yesterday morning. "We can decide what we're going to be, and [last night] is a great time to start."

And when it was over, Julien thought his team played a strong first period, then fell to costly mistakes, miscues that will have to be cleaned up. He's right.

They are back at it, folks. Game No. 1 is in the books. But if anyone asks, remember this all remains between us. You . . . didn't . . . see . . . anything.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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