This was a killer win for the former Whalers
It was a good night for Hartford. A good night for the Hartford Whalers Booster Club. Not such a good night for the Boston Bruins.
The former Whalers, now the Carolina Hurricanes, beat the Bruins, 3-0, at the Garden last night to even their second-round playoff series, 1-1. This made a small band of brothers and sisters happy back in America's File Cabinet, once the home of today's Hurricanes.
Should we really be surprised that there are still folks in Connecticut who root for the erstwhile Whalers? If we may paraphrase Tip O'Neill, all sports fanaticism is local. There are, after all, still Greater Bostonians who devoutly follow the Atlanta Braves, even though the Braves last played in Boston in 1952. These fans from yesteryear are sometimes compared to the Japanese who waged war in the Philippines long after their nation had surrendered to the Allied forces.
It's easy to understand why folks in Hartford feel they have a stake in this series. Big league is big league and the Whalers gave Hartford its only taste of the bigs when they skated at the Hartford Civic Center.
The late 1990s were not kind to Hartford. Whistling "Brass Bonanza," the Whalers packed their hockey bags and moved to North Carolina. Then Bob Kraft cut a phony deal to bring the Patriots to Hartford, where they would play in a taxpayer-financed stadium on a radioactive site that came to be known as Yo Adriaen's Landing. It was all a ruse, of course. The Patriots never left Foxborough and Connecticut governor John Rowland, who cut the deal with Kraft, wound up in federal prison (on charges having nothing to do with the Patriots debacle).
While longing for an NFL team that never arrived, and an NHL team that never came back, Hartford secured a franchise in the American Hockey League: the WolfPack, an affiliate of the New York Rangers.
Guess who led the 'Pack in scoring in that maiden season of 1997-98? A 20-year-old center named Marc Savard, that's who.
Savard was the Rangers' fourth-round pick in 1995 and began his professional career by scoring 21 goals with 53 assists for Hartford. He played nine more games with the WolfPack the following season.
He's gone on to become a Bruin top gun and an NHL All-Star, but like the Hurricanes, Savard's got Hartford hockey in his blood.
Savard scored two goals against the Whalers/Hurricanes in Boston's 4-1 Game 1 victory, but like the rest of the Bruins, he was skating in slush in Game 2. The Hurricanes pledged to rebound from their sluggish performance in the opener and they made good on the promise, much to the delight of the HWBC.
Scoring twice in the second period (Zdeno Chara was on the ice for both goals), the Canes took a 2-0 lead into the third. These were uncharted waters for the Bruins. They hadn't trailed by two goals in their first five playoff games. Boston trailed for only 23:31 of its first 300 playoff minutes.
Forced to chase, the Bruins scuffled. They turned over the puck too many times.
"They were definitely skating better than us in the first two periods," said Boston defenseman Andrew Ference.
"Soft plays, poor decisions with the puck," said coach Claude Julien. "They just wanted it a little more than we did tonight."
We finally saw the Carolina team that went 17-5-2 over its last 24 regular-season games. We saw Hurricanes center Eric Staal score his first points (assist, empty-net goal) in six games against Boston this year.
And we saw the real Cam Ward. The Carolina goalie stopped 36 pucks, including a sensational pad save of a Michael Ryder point-blank power-play shot.
"I didn't expect to hear that sound," said Canes coach Paul Maurice. "That's a glimpse of how good he is."
Good enough to skate off with the Conn Smyth Trophy when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
Folks in Hartford never will get over that one. They lived and died with the Whalers all those years, then watched with envy as their departed team brought champagne and glory to a city 520 miles to the southwest.
Just as long-suffering Braves fans raged when the Braves made it to a pair of World Series (winning one) in their first six seasons after leaving Boston.
The Bruins never have lost a playoff series to the Whalers/Hurricanes. Boston beat them twice in the Hartford days and again in 1999 when they were playing on Tobacco Road. The Bruins looked invincible winning Game 1 of this series, but now they are in a tie and home ice is lost and they've given hope to the lost boys and girls of the Hartford Whalers Booster Club.
Anybody got an eight-track of "Brass Bonanza"?
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.