BOSTON, MA- Finally! For the first time since Wednesday April 25, NHL hockey made its triumphant return to the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. All questions of whether or not the three-month long work stoppage would affect fan support in the Hub were completely squashed as a sell-out crowd of 17, 565 packed into the city’s favorite ice hockey venue.
Fortunately for each one of those fans — with the exception of the few who made the short trip north from New York –, the home-standing B’s performed near-perfectly in a 3-1 victory over the Eastern Conference rival Rangers.
After Tuesday night’s scrimmage resulted in a disappointing 7-5 loss at the hands of the AHL’s Providence Bruins, many weren’t sure where the B’s were at as opening night drew closer. However, an outstanding effort in all phases of the game was just what the doctor ordered for head coach Claude Julien’s squad.
“I liked our effort tonight. Again, couldn’t be happier because I like the effort that we gave tonight. The guys seemed to be pretty focused, I thought we did some real good plays and good decisions. As bad as we looked on Tuesday, as good as we looked tonight.” – Claude Julien
Boston fan favorite and new father Milan Lucic would open the game’s scoring at the 14:14 mark of the first period after shoveling home a David Krejci rebound for his first tally of the season. Despite deciding against playing overseas during the lockout, as the majority of his teammates did, Boston’s hulking left winger didn’t appear to miss a beat. The B’s sixth-year bench boss was quick to compliment Lucic during Saturday’s post-game press conference.
“(Milan Lucic was) Very good. The microscope was on him for a long time because he didn’t play (during the lockout) and people thought that maybe he wasn’t in the best of shape. There was a lot of question marks on him, but I thought he played a solid game and, not only did he score that goal from driving the net, but physically and everything else.” – Claude Julien
The next goal wouldn’t come until the 8:20 mark of the second frame when Boston would double their lead to 2-0. Fourth line stalwart Daniel Paille would drive towards the net and redirect the shot of linemate Gregory Campbell. The puck would then trickle through Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist and into the net for a goal. However, less than five minutes later, New York would strike back with a goal of their own. Top-line pivot Brad Richards took a feed from first-year Ranger Rick Nash and sent the puck top-corner to beat Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask.
With the score 2-1 in favor of the Bruins, both teams would begin to ramp up the hatred and physicality. In a matter of just three seconds, a pair of heavyweight fights would break out in the neutral zone. The first of which saw Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton get the better of Rangers’ grinder Mike Rupp and the second seeing Gregory Campbell hold his own against a much larger man in New York defenseman Stu Bickel.
Midway through the third and final period, an otherworldly stop made by Lundqvist against Krejci – an early save of the year candidate, in my book – would keep the score 2-1, but not for very long. Just more than four minutes later, birthday boy Johnny Boychuk’s seeing-eye wrist shot would beat the New York ‘tender after a key offensive zone face-off win by reigning Selke trophy winner Patrice Bergeron. Much like the Bruins’ other two goals on the night, Boychuk’s tally was a product of effective net-driving from Boston’s strong and physical forwards.
“It was key to have guys in front of the net drive, he (Henrik Lundqvist) was such a good goaltender, that if he sees all the good shots, he’s gonna stop them all and tonight we did a good job getting in front of him. Luckily for us that we got a couple of goals while he was screened.” – Johnny Boychuk
New York would then take a pair of penalties in the game’s final five minutes, all but eliminating any chance they had at mounting a comeback, as the Bruins held on for a 3-1 opening night victory at the TD Garden.
It’ll be a relatively quick turnaround for these two squads, as they will face off once again in just four short days at Madison Square Garden in New York City. With both teams set to play another game before then, Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan seems to expect that Wednesday’s contest will be even tighter and more physical than Saturday’s season opener.
“I mean we know what we are going to get out of Boston. We know that they’re a hard team to play against, in your face style and we saw that tonight. And I think it’s going to be even more like that Wednesday once teams get a couple games under their belts and get used to playing again.” – Ryan Callahan
Despite Saturday’s top-notch performance, Boston’s game-winning goal scorer Daniel Paille (and his teammates) know that they key to their success this season relies upon one word: consistency.
“I think we all should be very pleased with that effort and that level of play today. I think one thing that we need to do is be consistent, and a lot of things happened to make you go out, and adrenaline, and you’re trying to do well in your first game. But the key is to continue to do that.” – Daniel Paille
Stat of the Night: Not one of New York’s four centermen enjoyed a success rate of higher than 50% in the face-off dot on Saturday. Brad Richards (42%), Derek Stepan (50%), Brian Boyle (38%) and Jeff Halpern (20%) were all less-than spectacular in the circle against the Bruins’ trio of tough two-way pivots; Patrice Bergeron (71%), Chris Kelly (69%) and Gregory Campbell (57%).
Ben’s Three Stars:
2) Patrice Bergeron (1 Assist/5 Shots/71% Face-Off Percentage)
3) Daniel Paille (1 Goal/Plus-1 Rating/2 Shots)
Next Game: Monday January 21, 2013 – 1:00 PM – vs. Winnipeg Jets
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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Contributor to the New England Hockey Journal. Have written for The Hockey Guys and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com.