It was so tense a man could swallow a puck if he weren't careful. The champion Boston Bruins had just lost to the Detroit Red Wings—only their first defeat in 17 games—and now the hated first-place New York Rangers were in town looking for revenge. Bobby Orr was not scoring like Bobby Orr, Teddy Green was not playing defense as he had before his brain injury and the Bruins were not stacking up bodies. From Dorchester to Revere Beach, Hubmen were talking trade, and one of the most persistent rumors had Derek Sanderson going to Toronto.
"Sorry about that," Sanderson said last week. "I can't be traded unless I agree to it, and I'm not going to Toronto. Can't you just see me in New York, though, me and Joe Namath?"
Well, yes, Derek, but only visiting. It is hard to imagine any Bruin playing with any Ranger after their vicious Stanley Cup series last spring. As the two teams lined up against each other Saturday night for the first time this season, the feuds seemed deep and abiding; for instance Sanderson's own matchup with Eddie Giacomin, the goaltender who finally joined the masked set. "I hope Sandy remembers what Giacomin did to him in the playoffs," Tom Johnson, Boston coach, said before the game. "I never forget," Sanderson said.
Then there is the way at least half a dozen Bruins feel about Dave Balon, the excellent left wing who scored 33 goals last year playing on the line with Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn. "He's the guy who gets you up to beat his team," said Boston's Johnny McKenzie. "You dislike him and make believe all the Rangers look like him."
But there are some genuine rivalries, too. Orr and New York's Brad Park are easily the best defensemen in hockey. Last year New York was in first place on Feb. 19 when Park broke a bone in his ankle. When he returned to the lineup 17 games later, the Rangers were fifth. Unlike Orr, an offensive defenseman, defensive defenseman Park is seldom publicized, but he accepts his second-class status grudgingly. "In seven games," he said, "I've been on the ice for only one opposition goal—and that one on a power play. That's what is important to me."
Phil Esposito and Fred Stanfield against the Rangers' Tkaczuk and Jean Ratelle is not a very bad pairing, either. Esposito, Johnson claims, "has to be one of the greatest centers in the history of the game." If Esposito had Sanderson's mouth, he probably would be a household word or, at least, a name that gets dropped occasionally.
"Talking isn't my bag," Esposito says. "Let's face it. On our club Orr has the magnetism, Sanderson has the bad-boy image and McKenzie the rough-tough style. I'm just Esposito, never been a crowd pleaser. Hey, I've watched myself on videotape, and I wouldn't cheer for me either. But that's me."
The very way the two teams approach the game is different. Ned Harkness, whose Detroit Red Wings lost to the Rangers a week ago Wednesday but then beat the Bruins on Thursday, said, "Our game with the Rangers was like being in Sunday school. No great contact, just sharp passing and a lot of skating. Against Boston, huh. They try to run you out of the rink. The New York style is better over the full season. It's easier to make those short passes and play close checking than it is to hit people." The Bruins, who score more goals per period than the Rangers allow in a game, concentrate on scoring goals; the Rangers work at preventing them.
Saturday both played their game. Working smoothly despite some solid Boston body checking, the Rangers out-maneuvered the Bruins for most of the first period, and only spectacular saves by Boston Goaltender Eddie Johnston prevented New York from taking a two-or three-goal lead.
Then it happened. With seven seconds left in the period, Balon slashed Boston's Ken Hodge. A ruckus ensued, and apparently that was all the arousing the Bruins needed. They roared out for the second period and scored three goals, taking 24 shots at Giacomin. Orr, who had been favoring a charley horse and a sore wrist, set up Johnny Bucyk for the first goal after a typical Orr rush through the Rangers' defense. He then combined with Esposito to set up McKenzie for an easy power-play goal, and late in the period Green scored from a jam-up in front.
Orr scored early in the third period for a 4-0 lead, then McKenzie broke in alone on Giacomin, leaving Balon behind, for a 5-0 lead. Finally, with the Bruins shorthanded, Orr passed to Sanderson who, in turn, slipped a goalmouth pass to Eddie Westfall for the final goal in a 6-0 rout—the Rangers' worst defeat in more than two years. Orr had four points for the night, and Esposito had three.
It was easily the best effort of the season by the Bruins, and the most satisfied Bruin was Green. He wears what looks like a Tibetan monk's cap on his head, a stark reminder that he plays with a plastic shell inserted into his head to cover the hole where his skull was shattered. He started shakily at training camp, but when the season began, he was in the lineup. Although he does not initiate much hard body contact anymore, Green does not back away from it, either. His goal against the Rangers was his second of the year. He scored his first one six days earlier against the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Boston Garden audience gave him a five-minute standing ovation. He received a minute-long ovation for Saturday's score and then skated off the ice. Halfway to the bench he took off his helmet and tipped it to the crowd. Teddy Green was back—and there was no more panic in Boston.
Bludgeoning Bruins McKenzie (above) and Westfall beat Rangers Neilson and Giacomin.