On a warm day more befitting baseball diamonds and backyard barbecues than hockey rinks and steaming cups of hot chocolate, the Bruins opened their 2013-14 season Thursday night on Causeway Street with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Chris Kelly, Milan Lucic, and Patrice Bergeron scored the goals. Shawn Thornton and newcomer Jarome Iginla staged the fights. And Tuukka Rask made the saves, 32 of them, on a night made for scoring, fighting, winning, and wiping out the memory of a lost chance to win a Stanley Cup just over three months earlier.
Overall, these are busy, heady times here in the Sports Hub of the Universe.
■ The imperfect Patriots are a perfect 4-0, with the Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m.) next on their conquest list.
■ The surprising Red Sox, 97 wins Boston strong, open their playoff series Friday afternoon vs. the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway, in need of 12 more wins to capture a third World Series title in 10 seasons.
■ Now the Bruins, among a handful of NHL clubs with a reasonable chance to win the Stanley Cup, are 1/82d of the way through the NHL season with a 1-0 record. They’ve made it to a pair of Cup Finals the last three seasons, won in 2011, and have sold out 166 straight dates at TD Garden, where as recently as 2006 the season-ticket base had slumped to around 5,000.
So much about the Bruins is the same as when last we saw them, dragging their fractured bones and shattered dreams out of the Garden in June after being erased by the Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. They are back again, 90 years since first pulling up their wool socks in Boston Arena, with their veteran core intact and a few new faces to freshen the product.
Boston’s 17,565 Black-and-Gold faithful got their first look at grizzled veteran Iginla, the former Calgary star who arrived via a layover in Pittsburgh, and former Dallas winger Loui Eriksson, secured in a parting of the ways with wunderkind-gone-astray Tyler Seguin. Another forward, Reilly Smith (also part of the Seguin swap), skated effectively on a third line with Jordan Caron and Kelly.
Kelly, who scored a mere three goals in the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13, recorded a franchise first with his goal at 11:39 of the first period. The strike came via a penalty shot, Kelly awarded the attempt when impeded by Mark Barberio on a break-in attempt while the Bruins were shorthanded. Poised and surehanded, Kelly froze goalie Anders Lindback with a forehand fake at the doorstep, then swept in a backhander at the right post.
For all their opening nights through the decades, never had the Bruins scored on a penalty shot to open their season’s scoring. Barely 12 minutes gone and the video editor had clip No. 1 for the highlight reel.
Club owner Jeremy Jacobs, age 73, who bought the team and the old Garden on Causeway Street for $10 million in 1975, was in his New Garden for first night. More affable than ever, the smiling Jacobs made the rounds, including an appearance on Good Times R Us NESN, and shook hands with at least one wag in the press box.
The 20 players in Bruins uniforms for the opening game will receive $59.69 million in wages this season. It’s not Clarence Campbell’s NHL anymore, nor the one that Jacobs bought into for pocket change.
For the most part, North Station and the surrounding Garden area were quiet for hockey’s first night. Early in the afternoon, a visitor walking along Causeway Street or standing near the platforms of the MBTA commuter rail in North Station would have been hard-pressed to know the Bruins were about to open for business. It’s a busy city. Hockey is just another piece of the puzzle, unlike, say, Montreal or Toronto, where an NHL season opener nearly causes schools to shut down and businesses to close.
“No pulse, no business whatsover,’’ said one veteran scalper, who has worked street sales for Bruins and Celtics games for 60 years. “The place is dead. It was dead all year at Fenway, too. Fun team, worst to first and all that, but nothing in it for the scalpers.’’
The Internet has changed the face of scalping around the world. Scalping is now the domain of Internet enterprises, such as the gargantuan StubHub and a multitude of more humble online ventures.
“Honestly, I don’t know if street sales will survive,’’ said another scalper, a 25-year veteran at Boston sports events. “Go online and you’ll see Bruins tickets being sold by guys in Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, Michigan. We’re competing for sales with guys who’ve probably never been to Boston, never mind seen a game at the Garden or Fenway. There was big money in this at one time. Not now. The Internet made it all mainstream, socially acceptable to scalp. So much, in fact, the cops don’t even care about us anymore — not that I’m complaining!’’
Shortly after 7 p.m., with the Garden’s lights turned low, it was alternate captain Bergeron who received the loudest applause during the team’s on-ice introductions. The Hub loves “Bergy,’’ the steady and humble Quebec City kid who wears No. 37. He played Game 6 of the Cup Final with a separated shoulder, a fractured rib, and torn rib cartilage, then was immediately hospitalized at MGH with a collapsed lung. The thunderous applause for him before the game was a “Get Well’’ card turned “Well Done.’’
With 4:02 gone in the third period, Bergeron brought down the house again with a shorthanded goal that provided a 3-1 lead over the Bolts. Win No. 1 was in the books.
“Bergy was Bergy,” said coach Claude Julien. “He was back being his old reliable self.”