It was worth the wait

BOSTON -- It took just 60 minutes of exciting Boston Bruins hockey to forget about the 119-day lockout that threatened the 2012-13 NHL season.

And when the final buzzer sounded Saturday night to end Game 1 of 48, the Bruins had defeated the New York Rangers 3-1 at TD Garden. It was a perfect way to bring hockey back to the masses in the Northeast, with two Original Six teams that are built to dominate the Eastern Conference in this shortened season.

It was a fast-paced game and both teams looked sharp. If there were any questions about these players not being ready, their adrenaline served as a rustproof solvent.

"There was a lot of excitement coming into tonight; I couldn't sleep this afternoon," said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. "It felt like we were playing in the playoffs again."

It's not a stretch to think the Bruins and Rangers could face each other for the Eastern Conference title in late spring. The sprint-to-the-finish mentality was no doubt on display Saturday night, and if that mentality remains for the next 47 games, it's going to be a fun hockey season.

"I liked our effort tonight," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "I couldn't be happier, because I liked the effort we gave tonight. The guys seemed to be pretty focused. I thought we had some really good plays and good decisions. As bad as we looked on Tuesday [against Providence Bruins] is as good as we looked tonight."

The Bruins got goals from Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille and Johnny Boychuk, while new No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask made 20 saves en route to victory.

"I don't have any complaints about anybody on our team tonight," Julien said. "From top to bottom, we were a pretty good hockey club."

Even before the Bruins took the ice for the pregame warm-up, the 17,565 fans in attendance were already chanting, "Let's go, Bruins." The atmosphere was electric. For the better part of three hours, it was as though the lockout never happened.

"We've always said that the fans are amazing here, and again tonight they showed it," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. "We know it's been a long wait for them, and for us as well, and I'm very happy being able to share that with them on the ice at the Garden tonight."

With the game at a scoreless stalemate, Lucic gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 14:14 of the first period. He pumped in a rebound off a David Krejci shot and the Garden erupted. It seem fitting that Lucic notched the first goal of the season. He's been the target of criticism for being out of shape and not playing overseas during the lockout.

Julien was pleased with his top-line winger's performance.

"Very good," the coach said. "The microscope was on him for a long time because he didn't play and people thought that maybe he wasn't in the best of shape and there were a lot of question marks on him. But I thought he played a solid game."

Another storyline heading into this shortened season has been the absence of Tim Thomas and the emergence of Rask as the team's No. 1 goaltender. All week during the abbreviated training camp, Rask was poised and said he was ready for the challenge.

"He was awesome," Thornton said. "He always plays well against these guys the last few years. It was expected from me, and I've been pumping his tires here the last little bit, so I probably shouldn't pump them anymore because everyone think we have too much of a bromance. He played very well for us tonight."

When asked about his personal performance, Rask focused more on the team's play.

"We looked like midseason form," Rask said. "It was good to see and we've got to keep it up."

Thanks to a fortunate bounce of the puck, Paille was credited with a goal at 8:20 of the second period to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead. A few minutes later, New York responded when Brad Richards scored at 12:50 to cut the Rangers' deficit.

Before New York could gain any more momentum, Thornton decided it was time to do what he does best: He dropped the gloves with the Rangers' Mike Rupp at 13:35 of the second period.

"It's been a while. I'm sure it's been a while for him, too," Thornton said. "They had just scored, so I figured it was a good time as any to try to get the momentum going back the other way and maybe shake off some rust at the same time."

It seemed like all the sparring, wrestling and jujitsu Thornton did during the summer and throughout the lockout paid dividends, especially against a much bigger guy such as Rupp.

That bout got the fans into the action even more, and they came to their feet once again on the ensuing faceoff when the Bruins' Gregory Campbell and the Rangers' Stu Bickel dropped the gloves.

Boston added to its lead in the third when Boychuk's shot from inside the blue line appeared to be redirected in front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The goal gave the Bruins a 3-1 advantage.

There was a lot to be excited about in this game for the fans who have waited and waited and waited for hockey to be back. Not only were those fans satisfied with the win, they also saw the future with the solid play of rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton in his NHL debut.

"He was fine," Julien said. "Again, it was a matter of him getting through it. He seemed to get more and more comfortable as the game went on. As I mentioned this morning, what this guy lacks in experience, and the only way he's going to get it is by playing."

In the moments leading up to the pregame player introductions, and after the puck dropped at 7:13 p.m., Hamilton was so wrapped up in the moment he admitted after the game it was a surreal experience.

"It was really exciting," said the rookie. "It's a dream come true for me. Ever since I was a little kid I dreamt of that moment, and I'm just happy that it came true. All you can do is really enjoy it."

Prior to the game, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, sporting his 2011 Stanley Cup ring and sitting next to his son Charlie, read from a prepared statement.

"I said last year after our playoff exit that the Stanley Cup is on loan. I really meant it," Jacobs said. "We have a strong team and one that I believe will be very competitive this season. I expect us to contend for the Cup. We have 48 games in 96 days before the playoffs."

Game 1 did not disappoint.