Fans of the Boston Bruins have long memories, which is good, because they need them. The Bruins haven't won a Stanley Cup in 16 years, and they haven't been to a Cup final in a decade—until now, that is. Unofficial Bruin historians can supply the particulars on these droughts. The Hub was hopping with these experts on Saturday night after Boston beat the New Jersey Devils 6-2 in Game 7 of the Wales Conference finals, and it was a snap for them to fill you in on such recent happenings as Doughnutgate and Cam Neely's shoe trick. The particularly retentive among them could even tell you that center Craig Janney's dramatic third-period goal in the Garden on Saturday, while unassisted, was not unprecedented.
In quelling a New Jersey rally, Janney, at 19 the youngest player on the ice, revived the quintessential image of Bruin glory with one swoop into the Devils' crease. Pouncing on a bungled breakout pass from defenseman Ken Daneyko, Janney walked in on goalie Sean Burke, squeezing something like five feints into three yards of ice before tucking the puck around the sprawled goaltender's right skate. Hooked by Devil Claude Loiselle as the puck went in, Janney's feet left the ice. His body went horizontal—O.K., freeze it right there!—just as Bobby Orr's had in 1970 against the St. Louis Blues after Orr scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime (on Glenn Hall) and was tripped (by Noel Picard). The Bruins took that Stanley Cup, did it again two years later, and haven't since.
Janney's goal was a wooden stake through the heart of Team Dracula, the underdogs from East Rutherford who did not know how to die. The Devils fell behind 3-0 early in the second period, and for 15:28 of that period they were shut down completely—they didn't get off a single shot. Bruins goaltender Rejean Lemelin could have brought out a chaise longue and a daiquiri. But then Devil right wing John MacLean not only shot but also scored after Bruin defenseman Allen Pedersen kicked the puck away in his own end.
Center Mark Johnson led the Devils in playoff goals (10), but MacLean was tops in big playoff goals. And this one gave his teammates hope. Early in the third period, captain Kirk Muller, who along with linemates Pat Verbeek and Aaron Broten had disappeared in this series, caught the Boston defense flat-footed and swept a 10-footer past Lemelin to make it 3-2. "They're unbelievable," said Boston's Ken Linseman, the high-sticking, scrappy embodiment of intensity, who marveled at the abundance of the same trait in the Devils. "Every opportunity they had in the last two games, they scored. They are so strong mentally, it's scary."
Meanwhile Burke was at the other end, robbing Janney. Until Daneyko made like Santa Claus and Janney made like Orr.
The Bruin with whom Janney is most often compared, though, is not Orr but Jean Ratelle, the smooth-skating center who played for Boston from 1975 to '81 and who is now a scout for the club. After 12 teams passed on Janney in the 1986 entry draft, the Bruins chose him at Ratelle's urging even though Janney was not the burly type of digger Bruin general manager Harry Sinden prefers to have patrolling the Garden.
Sinden, weary of making the playoffs only to be bounced early by the Canadiens, had decided that in 1987-88 youth would be served. When Janney, a former Boston College player from Enfield, Conn., and Bob Joyce, a left wing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, arrived in Boston in early March, fresh from their respective Olympic teams, their new teammates, a clubby bunch, didn't exactly roll out the red carpet. The rookies bumped some veteran forwards aside, and there was tension.
"Craig had all this talent, and everybody knew about it before he got here," said 34-year-old Rick Middleton, who saw his ice time shrink after Janney and Joyce showed up. "We had to change the team around him, and we went into a little bit of a losing streak. But we came out of it." In the playoffs the line of Neely, Janney and Joyce has been the Bruins' most productive.
Janney's score in Game 7 made it 4-2, and the Bruins added two more third-period goals. The first of these, by Neely at 13:19, resulted in a shoe trick—two dozen or so Bruins fans, for reasons known only to themselves, threw their shoes onto the ice, obliging them to go home in their stocking feet.
Except for the few moments it took to clear the ice of footwear, the game was clean and crisp, blessedly so after the previous week, which featured a walkout in Game 4 by NHL officials following an altercation after Game 3 between Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld and referee Don Koharski. On Tuesday of last week, league president John Ziegler, who had been incommunicado for several days, surfaced in Boston for a hearing on the incident, during which Schoenfeld had shouted at Koharski, "You fat pig, have another doughnut!" Ziegler suspended Schoenfeld for Game 5 and fined him $1,000; the Devils were hit for $10,000.
With New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello behind the bench for Game 5, the Bruins burned Burke 7-1. Some folks wondered if the 21-year-old's psyche might have been damaged beyond repair, but he bounced back in Game 6, a 6-3 win in which the Devils scored on four of their first 10 shots.
It looked as if Lemelin's run of luck might be up. Fat chance. Four minutes into Game 7, when Lemelin sprawled to stop a shot, Verbeek lofted the rebound at an open net. From a prone position, as cool as a sunbather swatting a fly, Lemelin gloved the sure goal.
"We took it to the limit," said a drained Verbeek afterward. "We'll learn from this and take it further next year."
After the game Schoenfeld and Bruins coach Terry O'Reilly embraced. The two, once Bruins teammates and fast friends, had exchanged unpleasantries in the heat of the series. But Schoenfeld said of the Bruins, "They played with Terry's heart and intensity all the way." Would Schoenfeld be pulling for Boston in the finals? "You betcha."
The Oilers, of course, are favored. But Boston is one of just three NHL teams with an alltime winning record against them, right? The Oilers have traditionally had trouble in the cramped confines of Boston Garden, haven't they? And Bruin center Steve Kasper is renowned for his ability to shut down Wayne Gretzky, isn't he? Just ask the unofficial Bruin historians. They'll tell you.
Janney's third-period goal beat Burke and rekindled images of Orr for Bruin fans.
The tense series over, O'Reilly and Burke showed their mutual respect.