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Bruins Strike First, Put Brooms Back in Oilers’ Closet, 2-1

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The brooms were out in Edmonton.

The fans started chanting, “Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!” on Saturday afternoon at the airport where they greeted the Oilers upon their return from Boston after they won the first two games of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals.

By Sunday, the local newspapers carried stories discussing the prospect of a sweep of Boston.

The Bruins knew that the chant would be deafening in Game 3 at Northlands Coliseum Sunday night.

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They knew they would have act quickly and dramatically to change the emotional tide that threatened to sweep them out of the series.

Would you believe 10 seconds?

That’s all it took for John Byce to score and spark Boston to a 2-1 victory in Game 3.

Game 4 will be played at Northlands Coliseum Tuesday night.

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Many in the sellout crowd of 17,503 hadn’t even found their seats when Edmonton’s Kevin Lowe won the opening faceoff from Byce, only to lose the puck to Cam Neely on the left side.

Neely fired from there, but the shot was blocked by goalie Bill Ranford. However, it bounced back into the slot in front of Byce.

With Ranford out of position after the block, the entire right side of the net was open. Byce put the puck in.

Slightly more than six weeks ago, Byce was helping the University of Wisconsin win an NCAA championship.

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Five weeks ago, he was appearing in his first NHL game. After signing with Boston, Byce made his league debut in Game 6 of the Bruins’ opening playoff series against the Hartford Whalers.

In all, he appeared in five games before being relegated to the bench.

And there he sat, through the final two games against the Montreal Canadiens, the four-sweep of the Washington Capitals and the first two games of this series.

But with center Dave Poulin sidelined because of a sprained knee, Boston Coach Mike Milbury decided to take a chance and start Byce on a line with Neely and Craig Janney.

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“He was a noted goal scorer at the college level,” Milbury said. “That doesn’t necessarily make it at the NHL level. But with the injury, he was the logical choice to go to.”

Byce’s goal tied the record for quickest in a Stanley Cup final. The last time these teams met in the finals, two years ago, Glenn Anderson scored 10 seconds into the game at Boston Garden that wound up tied when a power failure ended it.

“I was pretty excited about it,” Byce said of his chance to start. “You hope that guys don’t get hurt, but you know that happens sometimes in hockey. I’ve been practicing every day, preparing for something like this to happen.”

Boston’s second goal Sunday came from another unlikely source.

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Wing Greg Johnston had only made two previous appearances for Boston in the playoffs. But he was playing during the first period when Randy Burridge took the puck off the boards on the left side and sent it to Johnston in the left circle. From there, Johnston lofted it over Ranford at the 15:04 mark.

The Bruins, after failing to get ahead of Edmonton since the opening faceoff of this series, finally had a lead to hang on to.

The Oilers had only 15 shots on goal in the first two periods, but had 14 in the third. They broke through at 5:54 on a power play.

Jari Kurri passed to Esa Tikkanen in the slot. Boston’s Bob Carpenter had a chance to break up the pass, but fanned.

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Tikkanen didn’t, putting the puck between goalie Andy Moog’s pads from about 35 feet.

It was the only bad moment for Moog, who faced 29 shots after taking heavy criticism for letting the first two games get away.

He was the losing goalie in Game 1, the triple-overtime marathon. And he was pulled in the second period of Game 2 after giving up three goals on four shots. Edmonton went on to win, 7-2.

“I never really felt frustration,” the former Oiler insisted. “I felt I never really had the chance to do my job in Game 2 because of the lack of shots. I was yanked. You have to work to feel like you’re doing your job out there and I was standing around for most of the game.”

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His job Sunday was made more difficult in the final period when the Bruins turned conservative, getting two shots on goal in a period that seemed to be played mostly in their zone.

“We got a little bit too cautious,” Milbury said. “We didn’t make any plays. I think we were fortunate to get the goaltending that we got, in order to get us through that fall-back period.”

It was a game the Bruins have been awaiting for a long time. Having been swept by the Oilers two years ago, they had lost six in a row in the finals to Edmonton, hadn’t won a game in the finals in 12 years and hadn’t won on the road in the finals in 18 years.

Stanley Cup Note

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The fastest goal ever in an NHL playoff game was scored by the Kings’ Don Kozak six seconds into a 1977 game against Boston.


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