At the break, 14 of Neely's goals had come on power plays, which put him second in the NHL in that category and helped propel the Bruins from 16th in power-play efficiency to sixth. In a tactical change from last season, Milbury and Ted Sator, the former Sabre coach who's now a Bruin assistant, have moved center Craig Janney—Neely's linemate and a terrific playmaker and passer—behind the net when Boston has a man advantage. Janney can better orchestrate the attack from that spot. "Last year the power play set up along the boards," says Milbury, "but if we have learned one thing from Gretzky, it is that so much happens from behind the net. You get the entire defense facing backwards when the puck's back there."
One thing Bruin fans have learned this season is not to bail out early to try to beat the traffic. With this young (average age: 26) and unpredictable team, no lead is safe. On Nov. 16, in one of the more remarkable comebacks of this or any other season, Boston trailed Montreal 2-0 with 2� minutes to go. The Bruins scored three times in 57 seconds to steal the victory. Two nights later Boston fell behind the New Jersey Devils 4-1 with 2:30 to go in the second period before scoring five unanswered goals to win 6-4. The Bruins have won three games in overtime and another five by scoring the winning goal within the last 3:03 of regulation play.
But Boston has been known to give away wins just as fast. Against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 30, the Bruins led 6-1 with two minutes remaining in the second period. They collapsed and lost 7-6 in overtime. The Whalers, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks have each beaten Boston with a goal in the final minute of regulation play, and Hartford earned its 5-5 tie last week after pulling its goalie and scoring off a crucial face-off.
Aside from face-offs, the Bruins' biggest weakness is that after Neely, their firepower fizzles. Boston went 2-7-1 over its first 10 games in December as the offense sputtered to a virtual standstill, scoring only 2.6 goals a game. On Dec. 13, Sinden acquired veteran Dave Christian, a former 41-goal scorer, from the Washington Capitals for left wing Bob Joyce, and Christian helped pull the Bruins out of their scoring slump. However, the bottom line in Boston is that whatever success the Bruins enjoy this season will result from their ability to keep the puck out of their net.
The defense doesn't have to look very far for inspiration. On Jan. 2, Gord Kluzak returned to the lineup after having missed all but three games of 1988-89 and the first 39 games of this season following the ninth and 10th operations on his left knee. "It's like starting up an old car" is how Kluzak describes the elaborate pregame ritual he goes through to prepare his knee.
Kluzak, 25, a first-round draft choice in 1982, has since played four seasons and missed 3�. Few believed he would make it back after his last layoff. The Bruins are clearly a better team with Kluzak in the lineup, if only because his teammates know that each shift could be the last of his career. So everyone skates like hell.
Says Bourque, "It picked everybody up to have Gordie back. He's a key for us. We went to the finals two years ago with him in the lineup."
And to the finals they would like to return. As Milbury said after the Bruins reached the break with a hard-hitting 2-2 tie against the Calgary Flames, who happen to be the defending Stanley Cup champs, "I'd be happy for the opportunity to play them again in May."