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Go ahead, enjoy those shivers up your spine

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / October 6, 2011

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Warning to Bruins fans: be patient, understanding.

Though it may be a slight surprise to some readers, those are not my words, folks. With a new NHL season to begin tonight, a beginning unlike any witnessed around here since Oct. 8, 1972, we dialed the wayback machine of the Globe sports section to the morning of the 1972-73 season opener. There, under the byline of old pal Tom Fitzgerald, was that somewhat dour, if not dire, assessment of where things stood on Causeway Street only some five months after the Bruins won the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup.

Keep in mind, ol’ Fitzy had legitimate reason to preach his words of caution to what was perhaps the most crazed fan base in all of sports that morning. First and foremost, the legendary Bobby Orr remained sidelined after undergoing a knee operation in June that was his third on that same knee since 1968.

The Bruins also were without Gerry Cheevers, Derek Sanderson, and Johnny “Pie’’ McKenzie, all of whom pranced around Madison Square Garden in Cup hysteria May 11, then bolted town during the summer for humongous paydays - though ultimately far less happiness - in the rival World Hockey Association.

“It’s going to be a lot tougher this time, folks,’’ warned our man Fitzgerald on the morning of the season opener.

Oh, it was more difficult, though the Bruins won 51 of 78 games during the regular season, amassed 107 points, then got bumrushed by the Rangers, 4-1, in the opening round of the playoffs.

If only Orr had been healthy. If only the WHA hadn’t offered up fool’s gold and false dreams. The band might have played on for years and years, Cup upon Cup, glory upon glory.

But it didn’t, and it wasn’t until June 15, 2011, that Fitzgerald’s caveat - “be patient, understanding’’ - officially, if not mercifully, was peeled off the backside of their tattered pants.

So now what? Truth is, patience and understanding will still be in order after the Bruins shimmy their freshly minted Cup banner to the rafters, the first time that’s been done inside the not-so-new New Garden. The biggest difference between then and now, though, is in the game’s new world order of 30 teams.

This is not your daddy’s 16-team NHL that saw the Canadiens, winners in ’73, rattle off a half-dozen Cups in the ’70s. It’s a league now of parity, with a salary cap and easy-to-attain free agency at its core, and there hasn’t been a back-to-back Cup winner since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

But tonight, with a jam-packed house of 17,565 to bear witness, the focus won’t be on the past, or on next spring, or even the more immediate future, but rather on the present tense of a splendid moment.

The Bruins stand tonight as champs. They are back in their house for the first time since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, at home for the first time since finally reclaiming the Cup two nights later in Vancouver. The days of Orr et al perhaps will never be put to rest, never truly replicated, but at least now there is another chapter of team history for the franchise, its players, and the city to revel in rather than lament.

“It will be awesome,’’ said rugged winger Shawn Thornton, who also won the Cup with Anaheim in 2007 before signing here weeks later as a free agent. “I mean, this building with all the old banners . . . We are up there now, right?’’

Up there with Orr, Phil Esposito, and Ken Hodge. Up there with Wayne Cashman, John Bucyk, and Ace Bailey. To go back even further, up there with Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman, Milt Schmidt, and Tiny Thompson.

The Cup engraved, banner in place, and dazzling rings in hand, the 2010-11 Bruins tonight officially stake their claim in history.

“When you are around town, all anyone talks about is the team in the ’70s,’’ said Thornton, 34, born the summer after Orr already had left here to play for the Black Hawks. “Now we have a banner up there beside them, which I think is really important.

“I am hoping it will be remembered the same way. Hopefully we’ll have good teams for years to come and be thought of in the same way.’’

For that to happen, they’ll have to win again, and perhaps again, and maybe then again. That’s a very tall order in the game’s new world order.

Working in their favor, unlike Boston’s ’72 winners, is the fact that the core of the team has returned and everyone is healthy. No. 1 goalie Tim Thomas, the playoff MVP, is back in net. Team captain Zdeno Chara remains in place, chewing up most of the defensive zone, aided at the power-play point by newcomer Joe Corvo. Budding power forward Nathan Horton has healed from that head shot, delivered by the Canucks’ Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the Final, and is back on the right side of the No. 1 line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.

Winning again, figures Thornton, could turn one sweet triumph into true legacy.

“We’re forgotten pretty quickly when we’re done playing, other than Z and a couple of other guys that might go to the Hall of Fame,’’ he said. “But if you win a few times and you’re up there a few times . . .

“I mean, people still remember guys like Pie McKenzie, you know what I mean? They’re not forgotten. Because they won. And that’s pretty cool.’’

The hard work of a new season begins tonight, but not before everyone slakes their thirst with one last slug of the Cup’s feel-good brew. Some of the old Black-and-Gold heroes will be in residence. The Garden’s huge video screen no doubt will pay homage to the proud franchise’s days of yore and then hoist everyone in the house on Chara’s broad shoulders, once more showing how he lifted the Cup 113 nights ago in Vancouver.

On this night, at least until the puck is dropped, it’s time to spare patience and understanding, and party like it’s June 15, 2011.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at GlobeKPD.

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