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Dan Shaughnessy

After long layoff, anything but a close shave

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 2, 2009
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Playoff beards? We thought the Bruins might return to the ice looking like ZZ Top. Or maybe 20 El Tiantes, skating as one.

The Bruins and a lot of their fans stopped shaving when the postseason started back on April 16, but the swift sweep of Les Glorieux barely gave young guys enough time to grow peach fuzz.

Then came the interminable layoff. Time for long whiskers and full beards. Time to cut the grass, watch it grow, then cut it again. Also too much time for a hot hockey team to turn cold and stale.

So, we wondered, would the Bruins come back rusty?

They answered quickly in last night's 4-1, Game 1 domination of the Hurricanes. Ninety-four seconds into their first game in nine days, the Bruins jumped to a 1-0 lead when David Krejci redirected an Aaron Ward wrist shot from just inside the blue line.

Happy days were here again in the Hub of Hockey. Days of the Teddy Bear picnic.

"It was good to get that first one," said Marc Savard, who scored twice for the Bruins.

The Bruins hadn't played since April 22, when they completed their first-round sweep in Montreal. Eight days without a game is a lot of time, especially when you are as hot as the Bruins were at the end of that series.

It reminded me a little of the 1946 Red Sox, who clinched the American League pennant on Sept. 13, then had to wait almost a month to play the Cardinals in the World Series. Boston's early clinch gave the Sox too much time to get stale, and the rust was compounded when the Cardinals and Dodgers finished in a tie and had to play a best-of-three playoff. Red Sox manager Joe Cronin, fearing lethargy, arranged to have a team of American League All-Stars play three scrimmages with the Sox while everybody waited for the NL winner to emerge. In the fifth inning of the first practice game, Washington lefthander Mickey Haefner hit Ted Williams on the right elbow. Williams never used the excuse, but many believe his sore wing contributed to his Series flop (.200, all singles). The Sox lost to the Cardinals in seven.

Bruins coach Claude Julien did his best to keep his players sharp during the layoff. Alas, short of summoning select stars from Toronto and Buffalo - or perhaps Jack Parker's national champs from Comm. Ave. - Julien could only let his guys scrimmage one another. Practices in Wilmington were fast and furious. There was a lot of skating, some four on three and five on four. But no intrasquad scrimmage can simulate NHL playoff game speed, and there was doubt about how the Bruins would come out after the layoff.

Krejci's goal got things off on a good note, but Carolina neutralized the score on a goal by Jussi Jokinen late in the period and it was 1-1 after one.

The Garden was strangely quiet early in the second. It felt like the fans were getting reacquainted with their team, waiting for something to happen. They got their wish when Savard flipped a backhander off a rebound into the net.

It kickstarted the Bruins and the shaggy-faced crowd. A couple of minutes later, Michael Ryder intercepted a sloppy pass and fired the puck into the net to make it 3-1. With 12:39 left in the third, Savard banged a slapper past Cam Ward to make it 4-1.

"There was some rust," admitted Boston goalie Tim Thomas. "In the first period not everything clicked as well as it did in the second and third. But after nine days off, being 1-1 at the end of the first was not bad."

"It took a little bit for us to get the rust off," said Patrice Bergeron. "Nine days off like that is tough, especially when you don't know who you are going to play. I thought we did a good job staying focused."

Julien told his players to follow the lead of the Vancouver Canucks, who beat the Blackhawks Thursday after a long layoff. And they did.

"There's some things we can do to improve and part of that is from the long layoff," said the coach. "For a team that hasn't played in a week and a half, we played decently. We were patient with our opportunities. I think our team was a good as we could have expected for tonight."

The Bruins beat Carolina four times in four tries during the regular season, outscoring the Canes, 18-6. The count is now 5-0 and 22-7. The Canes' best player, center Eric Staal, is pitching a five-game shutout against the Bruins - thanks in large part to Zdeno Chara.

Is it too early to bring back Moses Malone's infamous "Fo', fo', fo' "?

Probably.

No layoff for the Bruins now. They're back on the ice tomorrow night. Which gives you all another day to let your face grow long.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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