Saturday night, everything goes back to normal. Saturday night, the Bruins open their season against the New York Rangers at the Garden, and our long national(-ish) nightmare of no hockey/too much HRR talk is over. We can finally get back to talking about defense and point production and whether the Bruins powerplay will suck forever and ever, and stop talking about the Lockout with a capital L.
And what does this mean for OTBH? It means no more morose reflecting on past work stoppages, no more strolls down memory lanes paved with the bitter tears of my sadness (look, I was really bummed about no hockey, ok). Instead it means looking at those moments in Bruins history that are unheralded, shocking, or just plain neat. One of the things I really want to do over the next little bit is to look at how the Bruins got their start against various teams in the league. How did that very first game against the Flyers pan out? Were the seeds of conference hate sown there, or did it develop over time? What about the Caps, or the Leafs?
So here on the eve of a matchup that is, if not quite as juicy as the one with the Habs, still filled with historical rivalry and animosity, I offer you Bruins vs. Rangers: 1926 edition! Seems like as good a place to start as any.
The Bruins hockey club was only two years old when the Rangers made their grand entrance into the National Hockey League, joining the New York Americans as the second NYC-based team. The fall of 1926 brought with it a hockey league made up of 10 teams, split for the first time into two divisions -- Canadian and American. In a "Winnipeg in the Southeast Division makes perfect sense, what" sort of move, the NHL decided that one of the New York teams -- the Americans -- would actually be in the Canadian Division. Yep.
This left the Bruins in an American division that housed the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as three teams new to the NHL: the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Cougars, and the Rangers. As when any new team enters the league, no one was quite sure how these infant teams would shake out in terms of talent, cohesiveness, and drive. The Bruins were coming off a much better year than their first (which was, like, really bad), but had yet to make the playoffs. The new divisional format and the unknown factor the new teams brought had to make Boston fans wonder if this year would be another improvement, or a regression towards the bottom of the standings.
That first ever game against the Rangers, played on December 7th, 1926, showed just how much the Bruins would have to fight to get atop the standings in the American Division. The Rangers were the first divisional rival to visit Boston in the 1926-1927 season, and were co-holders of first place alongside Detroit. Boston was holding its own, with a 3-0-3 record at that early point in the season, but the Rangers were rocking and rolling through their opponents, scoring a bunch of goals and being pretty stingy with goals allowed. That Rangers team featured a number of players never seen in Boston before -- the breakup of the Western Hockey League the previous season had led to the new NHL teams stocking up with WHL talent. Nonetheless, the Bruins were coming off of a big come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Pirates (after trailing by three going into the third period - sound familiar?), and were looking to make a statement against an unfamiliar New York Squad.
Alas, the Bruins did not triumph that night at the old Boston Arena, in front of 10,000 enthusiastic fans. They fell 1-0 to the Rangers after a tightly played defensive game (featuring, I'm assuming, the Zdeno Charas and Dan Girardis of the 1920s), and the following day Boston reporters bemoaned Boston's scoring woes while praising the "remarkably well-balanced" Rangers team. Globe writer John Hallahan went so far as to call the Ranger's win "scientific," as opposed to the "hurly-burly game...Bostonians have been in the habit of watching."
The B's had their chance for redemption a week later, when they played the Rangers in New York. In a heartbreaker, the Bruins lost that game, too, on an overtime goal by Rangers winger Murray Murdoch. The final score was 2-1 Rangers, and again, the game was (by all accounts) fiercely contested throughout.
This became something of a theme during the 1926-1927 season; of the six times the Bruins and the Rangers played during that season, 3 games went to overtime, and only one game was decided by more than 2 goals. The Bruins finished second in the division, while the Rangers finished first, and they faced each other in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup. Boston won, eventually losing to the old-school Ottawa Senators in the finals, but the whole season was characterized by this epic battle between the B's and their New York rivals for domination over the new American Division.
Actually, the battle didn't end there. The following year, in 1928, the Rangers won their first ever Stanley Cup, but only after having to go through Boston in the semi-finals. The following year's Champions? The Boston Bruins. Who did they have to beat in the Finals? You guessed it!
The teams were both really good, is the thing. They faced each other in the regular season and in the playoffs a bunch in those early years of a ten-team league, and that would naturally lead to a fairly intense rivalry. Since then, the competition between the two has waxed and waned, but we once again find ourselves in a place where the Bruins and Rangers are expected to be the class of the conference (along with the Penguins and Flyers -- don't worry, I'll be getting to those cats, too), and to top it all off, they play twice in the first three games. If that isn't a recipe for 1920's-style rivalry, then I don't know what is.
And as someone who is thrilled to not be mournfully gazing at my framed picture of Patrice Bergeron while I watch yet another episode of House Hunters International, and instead watching actual hockey, I am freaking pumped. Bruins-Rangers. Bring it the hell on.