Bruins faithful from all around New England will make their way to Boston today as the Hub of Hockey prepares for its first home game of the 2006-07 campaign. The puck drops tonight at 7:00 at the TD Banknorth Garden (NESN, WBZ) as the B's take on NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup contender, the Calgary Flames.
But even though fans who arrive early on Causeway Street will be enjoying the pre-game outdoor activities, and then watching the opening night ceremonies on the new Bruins scoreboard once they get inside, the Boston Bruins themselves are gearing up for an early season game in which they will compete at playoff intensity against the team from Canada.
The B's, now 1-3-1 after their season starting five game road trip, know that they have something to prove to their fans, and, on top of their sobering start, must halt a losing trend which threatens to relegate them to also-rans much too early on the docket.
Embarrassed at what they consider a sub-par showing on the road, yesterday in Wilmington, the Bruins said they look to turn things around in front of the home crowd.
"I'm sure the fans will be excited," said Boston defenseman Brad Stuart. "We'll be excited, and we want to show them that we are a good team.
"But we've put ourselves into a bit of a hole after the start, and I think everybody realizes that if we do not come up big in this homestand we're going to be really behind the eight ball.
"It's still early in the season, but when you put yourself behind early it's really hard to make that ground up," he said.
Mark Mowers, a local transplant, by way of the University of New Hampshire Wildcats and one of the Bruins more pleasant surprises this season, thinks that the Bruins must ignore this afternoon's hype and mentally prepare for the game.
"It will be fun and I'm excited, but the situation we're in kind of [overshadows] that," said Mowers, a sparkplug who will look to continue his energetic play on the fourth line.
"We've got to come out and we've got to win the game. Forget about it being the home opener. That really has nothing to do with it right now."
"We have to win a couple of games in a row," said defenseman Milan Jurcina succinctly. "We've played five games and won only one.
"It wasn't a start we like, but we can play like it's a playoff game to try and turn it around."
And that mentality reaches into the management and coaching offices, as well.
In fact, new General Manager Peter Chiarelli emphasized that the fans can help put the team into a playoff mentality, and said that a loud home crowd can do wonders for the team, especially when they are down.
"It's very important," said Chiarelli of the home crowd's ability to pump up players. "The players like to play in front of a full house. They like to play in front of fans that are cheering.
"It sounds obvious, but it's a truism. It makes them play at a higher level. It makes them play at a higher tempo and it's very important.
"I'd like to think that every game is played at a [playoff like] intensity," continued Chiarelli, after being informed about his players' Stanley Cup attitude toward the game. "I know it's not possible, but it's good to hear that [the players] are saying that because we've got off to a little bit of a slow start and I'd like to see it turn around."
Head Coach Dave Lewis believes that the Bruins must prove themselves to the fans during this upcoming six game home stand.
"I'm looking forward to just having the guys play in the Garden," said Lewis. "And the fans are going to react according to what they see, what we do -- and what their feelings are.
"The only way you can control the crowd is if you're playing high energy and you hopefully get the lead and win the hockey game," Lewis explained. "That's what the players want to do."
"It doesn't always happen that way. But the fans, they want to see that, and I think it goes hand in hand. The players are there to perform at a certain level and meet a certain expectation and hopefully we can deliver the goods for the first game."
Perhaps the final word on what figures to be an intense home opener, came from Bruins Hall of Famer John Bucyk, found in the Boston locker room on Wednesday, in his capacity as the B's Road Services Coordinator.
The Bruins legend, and two-time Stanley Cup champion, said he knows that the Boston fans will be behind the Black and Gold in the Garden this evening.
"Sometimes when the fans get into the game it's like having another player on the ice," said Bucyk, who knows a few things about loud fanatics from his days in the original Boston Garden. "I think the fans the fans here in Boston want to see a winner and I think they will be with the guys.
"You can hear them [down on the ice]. If they're with you and cheering you, it's a big boost. It just gives you that little extra energy."