There was no “Thank You Fans!” message patronizingly painted on the ice of TD Garden on Saturday night.
Beyond Jeremy Jacobs’s teeth gritting, kinda-sorta-apology (ripe with backhanded allegations towards the NHLPA, including the gem “I wouldn’t give (Fehr) credit for anything”), there was little to distinguish tonight’s opening night from any season openers of the past. And that’s the way it should be.
Part of the problem with the “Thank You Fans!” message that appeared on the ice for the entire 2005-2006 season is that it reminded the league’s paying customers that they had a legitimate reason to be upset with the National Hockey League. If the fans were looking to forgive and forget, they had their memories of the league’s transgression refreshed every time their home team crossed the neutral zone. It was a campy and ill-conceived message that did little but agitate hockey die-hards, and serve as a running joke for years to come.
But no, tonight was different, in that it wasn’t.
Fans don’t want immaculately edited apologies, nor do they want the league’s billionaire owners to try and show sympathy for all those “who depend on this game for their livelihood.” In fact, let’s just move on.
Part of the success behind the NBA and NFL’s attempts to quickly move on from their recent lockouts was their apparent refusal to acknowledge them. One thing that the owners must realize at this point is that this isn’t about them, it never has been. Let the game take over, and while the fans will surely remember the 2012-2013 lockout, it’ll be far from their minds when the Stanley Cup is handed out in June.
If the capacity crowd of 17,565 was harboring any ill will towards the NHL, it certainly didn’t sound it when the building exploded as Milan Lucic netted the evening’s first goal. And despite the occasional “Jacobs sucks!” chant from sections of the upper deck, it really did feel like just another night in the hockey crazed city of Boston.
While both teams showed signs of rust, the Bruins dominated New York through the first 20 minutes. Had it not been for some unlucky bounces, and typically superb goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, the scoreboard could have read 3-0 going into the second stanza.
The game was played with an intensity that bordered on reckless at times, as both teams seem to know fully well that they could be seeing each other once again in the Eastern Conference Finals this spring.
When a Daniel Paille deflection snuck past a sprawling Lundqvist to make it 2-0 Boston, New York answered with a physical counterattack that seemed to hone in on Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin. Boston recoiled, and the Rangers Brad Richards cut into the Bruins lead at 12:50 in the second period.
Back to back fights from Shawn Thornton and Greg Campbell seemed to give the Bruins a spark, as their picked-up play helped them enter the third period clutching onto a 2-1 lead, while outshooting the Blueshirts 25-15.
Early in the third period rookie Dougie Hamilton, in his NHL debut, made a sharp defensive play by breaking up what would have been a chip shot for Marian Gaborik to tie the game. Soon thereafter, a Lucic boarding call, followed up quickly by a Zdeno Chara hooking penalty, set up New York with an extended 5-on-3 powerplay. Rangers coach John Tortorella called a timeout, but Tuukka Rask and the Bruins defense held strong.
On a subsequent Boston power play, the game could’ve been 3-1 if not for a jaw dropping save on David Krejci by Henrik Lundqvist (despite his entire glove appearing to be behind the goal line). Less than a minute later, Patrice Bergeron won an offensive zone face-off, which went directly to Johnny Boychuk’s stick and into the Rangers net, effectively robbing New York of any momentum their goaltender may have recently provided them with.
A game dubbed as an Eastern Conference clash of the titans was living up to be just that, with the 2011 Stanley Cup champions not only keeping pace, but outplaying this years fashionable Cup pick. Rask looked comfortable in his new role of Bruins go-to goalie, and behind a strong defensive showing and opportunistic offense, Boston announced that they were not intending to act as speedbumps for other Eastern heavyweights.
After the final horn sounded, and fans marched onto Causeway Street, the feelings of relief and optimism were palpable. In the locker room, the atmosphere was light as Bruins players returned to normalcy. No longer a backdrop to Donald Fehr and the union, the players were able to get back to focusing on the only thing that is truly important to them: the game of hockey.