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And he can shoot, too. Bourque's 40-foot slapshot in the third period gave Boston its tie with Winnipeg. On Thursday he scored a goal on a brilliant dash from the right point—he's the one defenseman Cheevers hasn't shackled to the blue line—and later fed Right Wing Rick Middleton with what proved to be the game-winner. On Saturday, Bourque ran his scoring streak to 11 games (five goals, 11 assists, 16 points) with a pair of goals. "Joe Theismann isn't the Quarterback of the Year," one fan says. "Ray Bourque is."
Bourque, Sinden's first-round 1979 draft choice (eighth overall) and a first-team All-Star last season, is the nearest thing to Bobby Orr since Bobby Orr. That's not to disparage the rest of the Bruin defense, the most solid in the league. Park, Milbury and Mike O'Connell are able veterans. Journeyman Marty Howe is playing the best hockey of his heretofore undistinguished career. Rookie Randy Hillier has done so well that he kept this year's No. 1 NHL draft choice, 6'4", 220-pound Gord Kluzak, from winning a steady job on defense until late January, when Hillier went out of the lineup with a hip pointer.
Says Milbury, "It's easy to play defense when you know you're not expected to contribute a lot of offense. Bourque and O'Connell rush the puck sometimes, but Gerry wants us to get it over the red line and dump it in. Let the forwards go to work."
That is to say, unleash the dogs. Their tenacity as forecheckers, said Ranger Coach Herb Brooks after Boston's 3-1 win on Jan. 24 in New York, "forces you to do things you don't want to do."
One of those things is taking a hit. While these Bruins may not play rough-house hockey like Da Broons of yore—"I was a goon goalie," Cheevers has said, "but I'm not a goon coach"—players like Keith and Bruce Crowder (known to their teammates as the Chowder brothers, or, more pointedly. Corn [Keith] and Clam [Bruce]) are, according to their coach, "two of the best cornermen in the league."
"Bruce reminds me of Gordie Howe, the way he wades in," says Sinden, which is another way of saying that opponents sometimes assault Crowder's elbows with their faces.
Boston's leading scorer, Center Barry Pederson, 21, is in only his second full season as a Bruin. Last year he set a team rookie scoring record with 44 goals and finished second to Winnipeg's Dale Hawerchuk in Rookie of the Year voting. He plays with the veteran Middleton, 29, Boston's second-leading scorer, on right wing and rookie Mike Krushelnyski, 22, on left. Pederson and Middleton get lots of chances because the 6'2", 200-pound Krushelnyski has a Spiderman reach that pushes pucks out of the corners for his linemates.
Center Tom Fergus, 20, another second-year Bruin, reminds Cheevers of "Ratty [Boston assistant coach and former Center Jean Ratelle] in the way he can move the puck out of our zone." And rookie Luc Dufour, one of the few French-Canadian players to be drafted by the Bruins, is an explosive and physical (68 penalty minutes through Sunday) left wing, although he's more in the fashion of the Montreal speedsters than the new Boston muckers.
Considering the gravity of the Bruins' injuries—12-year stalwart Terry O'Reilly out for the season after having knee surgery; Steve Kasper, the top defensive forward in the league last year, out at least until March after undergoing shoulder surgery; and Normand Leveille, the spark-plug left wing, out of hockey forever after suffering a near-fatal stroke last October—it's a tribute to the young dogs' scrapping spirit that they've gone as far as they have.
The only active player left from the 1972 Stanley Cup winners is 37-year-old Winger Wayne Cashman, who played in his 1,000th NHL game Thursday. Beloved by the Gallery Gods, Cashman has been limited to cameo appearances on makeshift fourth lines and has stopped just short of saying he will retire at the end of this season.