For hockey's old-line teams it was the biggest week of the season and for the fans an unmistakable and refreshing signal that the times they are a-changing. It was the first week in which the East teams tested one another with few distractions from the expansion clubs: and, when it ended, these things could be said:
?The champion Montreal Canadiens, still the class of the league, are hurting and finding it increasingly difficult to get "up" for every game—against teams invariably up for them and perhaps can be taken: they are most unlikely to breeze out ahead.
?The contending Boston Bruins have abruptly changed their style. Bleeding a little too freely from the sword they lived by, they have mended their manners a good deal—and are playing first-rate hockey.
?Despite a rough week the Chicago Black Hawks can again be a powerful force in the race—and they, too, have an entirely new look. Suddenly they have defense, youth and Bobby Hull, too.
?The New York Rangers have fulfilled their preseason promise and are turning on their share of the fans in Jets-Mets-Knicksville.
Of all the week's lessons probably the happiest was that New York was wholeheartedly in the race. Never in December had Madison Square Garden fans been so agreeably embarrassed, being obliged to idolize both the Knicks and the Rangers. Gone was the feeling that the Rangers would melt away, as in the past, at the first whiff of adversity. Inspired by youngsters like Walt Tkaczuk (pronounced tay-chuck) and Brad Bark, both second-year men, rookies Billy Fairbairn and Finnish-born Juha Widing; steadied along by veteran performers like Goalie Eddie Giacomin and Forwards Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield, the Rangers had taken first place in the East on Nov. 8. They hadn't got there by any break in the schedule, either; if anything, their early-season route was slightly rockier than the Canadiens'.
That these new Rangers can tough it out in a way the old Rangers newer could was evident on Wednesday night when the Black Hawks came to town. Chicago got two quick goals from Bobby Hull (making his first New York appearance of the year after ending that holdout) and his brother Dennis. In the second period the Rangers swarmed in on the Hawks' young goalie, Tony Esposito, but for many minutes could not crack him. And hen in less than three minutes they turned the game around. Hadfield found himself at goalmouth with the puck on us stick—and a tiny space between Esposito's right kneepad and the goalpost. It was space enough for Vic.
A mere minute and 19 seconds later Billy Fairbairn picked up a rebound 20 feet from Esposito and laced it past him. With the score tied and the capacity crowd of 17,250 in happy hysterics, Ratelle led a rush and poked one past Esposito from in close. Elapsed tune between goals No. 1 and No. 3: two minutes 36 seconds.
In the third period the Rangers were tied but by no means humiliated, for to even it up 3-3 Bobby Hull had to put on one of his muscle-beach acts. Rambling behind the New York net with the puck, he outwrestled one Ranger, a second Ranger, a third Ranger and still had enough strength and presence to Hip the disk out to Chico Maki, who fired it past Giacomin.
What really mattered in New York was that novel ability to score in bursts. "They can score on you so fast it's too last." said Montreal Coach Claude Ruel. " New York's strength," said Oakland's Fred Glover, "goes beyond those young players. They have 'em, all right, but they also have the kind of old heads who respond to the youngsters."