Welcome signs were everywhere
"And we got to get ourselves
Back to the garden"
"Woodstock" - Joni Mitchell
I came to see what all the fuss is about. I was not disappointed.
I'd read the papers, talked to hockey krishnas in my neighborhood, and seen film at 11.
Night after night. Bruins win by five goals. Bruins win by four goals. Bruins win shootout.
Almost as great as the old days, everybody said. Close your eyes and listen and you can hear Johnny "Pie" McKenzie crashing into the boards (this time it's Shawn Thornton). Watch David Krejci harvest hats with a three-goal game and imagine it's Phil Esposito. See Milan Lucic drop the gloves and go back to the days of Cam Neely, pummeling the nearest available Ulf.
OK, we'll never return to the glory days when we fixed the rabbit ears on our black and white Philcos and found a way to see snowy games on Channel 38. NESN isn't going to play highlights to the tune of "Nutty," and the voices of Fred Cusick and Johnny Peirson are ancient echoes of the days when hockey was the Hub's top draw. Bobby Orr isn't walking through that door.
But we all know the Bruins are back in the conversation, which is a long way from the abyss and abject irrelevance of 2004-07. We know the B's are in sole possession of first place, which is more than we can say for the Patriots or the wild-card Red Sox. We know the best hockey night this town has seen in a long time was the 5-4, Game 6 playoff victory over the Canadiens last April.
It's a Rink Renaissance of sorts, led by general manager Peter Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien, and a cast of young stars who are still largely unrecognizable on the streets of Boston.
The Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 8-5, on Causeway Street last night. It was Boston's 12th consecutive victory at the Vault. The B's are 22-5-0-4, which represents Boston's best start since the 1973-74 season, when Orr, Espo, Bucyk, and the other gods of Hub Hockey roamed the small ice surface of the old barn.
This one was pinball puck play at its finest. It was long on entertainment, short on snooze. It was never safe to go for a hot dog and a frosty lager. You might miss a goal. Or a fight. Or both.
"I think the fans love the goals," said Krejci.
Julien acknowledged there was "some sloppy play" when the Bruins allowed four goals in the second period, but said, "We did a lot of good things offensively."
Boston's home winning streak is the best in the Hub since 1975-76 and the B's have won each of the last 11 Garden games by two or more goals.
Marco Sturm, fresh off a monthlong hiatus because of whiplash, scored 36 seconds after the opening faceoff. Four minutes 10 seconds later, Krejci took a pass from Lucic (the Garden's Lucic cheer sounds a lot like the one you hear at Fenway for Kevin Youkilis) and potted the puck for a power-play goal to make it 2-0. Phil Kessel had an assist to extend his point streak to 16 games. After allowing two goals on five shots in five minutes, Vesa Toskala was pulled in favor of Curtis Joseph. It was shorter than a Tim Wakefield playoff start. In a rare bit of ice capades, all four goalies played, and Toskala was starter and reliever.
And speaking of knuckles, it wouldn't be a fun hockey night in Boston without some good old-fashioned five for fighting. Thornton delighted the masses late in the first in a bloody dust-up with winger Andre Deveaux.
In the second minute of the second period, 15 seconds into a power play, Marc Savard (Harry Sinden's favorite) tipped home a Zdeno Chara power-play slapper to make it 3-1. Thirty-five seconds later, Krejci scored his second of the night.
Time for more fisticuffs. Mark Stuart went toe-to-toe with John Mitchell.
We were just getting rolling. Just after Ron Poster played "Paint It, Black" on the house organ, Kessel scored on a two-on-one to make it 5-1.
Whew. Six goals and two fights and we weren't even halfway through the second period. This would have been a month's worth of action in recent years. It was hockey heaven. How could I have stayed away for so long?
The pace never slowed. Toronto scored three times in the second half of the second to cut it to 5-4. Then Kessel connected on a true-grit, sheer muscle goal to make it 6-4. It was 6-5 at the end of the second period.
"The second, third, and fifth goals were all tipped," said Thomas, who was lifted after the rubber flurry in the second. "The first one was the only one I had a chance on . . . Obviously, you don't want that kind of stuff to happen."
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who did not consider this a wide-open game, brought back Toskala to start the third. That didn't stop the B's from scoring two more times. Krejci's third goal, this one on a two-man advantage, set the final score, littered the ice with lids, and sent everybody home happy.
Typical night on Causeway Street in the Magic December of 2008.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.