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The Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 5, and once again the Boston press is touting the Bruins as sure winners.
This year, the story goes, the "Burly Bruins" are much more "defense conscious," and there will be no repeat of last year's debacle when they lost to Montreal in the first round.
Certainly Boston appears to be in a strong position. Ken Hodge is back on right wing on the Esposito line after missing 18 games with a broken ankle. Bobby Orr is having his usual great season, with 33 goals to his credit already, and goalie Gerry Cheevers has gone 29 games without a loss.
Winning the Stanley Cup Finals, however, will not be that easy. There the Bruins, should they win in the first two rounds, will face either the New York Rangers, the Chicago Black Hawks, or the Montreal Canadiens. Any of these teams could give the Bruins real trouble.
The Rangers, under the direction of coach Emile "the Cat" Francis, have come a long way from the days when Harry Howell and Larry Cahan used to inadvertently poke the puck by the beleaguered Ranger goalie, Gump Worsley.
The Black Hawks are led, as usual, by Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, who always play their best hockey during the playoffs. Goalie Tony Esposito, the other half of the infamous brothers Esposito, is the second best goalie in the NHL, though brother Phil has gotten the better of Tony this season.
Montreal, however, probably poses the greatest threat to the Bruins. The Canadiens have not lost in their last 11 games and are currently playing their best hockey of the season.
The heart of the Montreal team lies in the goal. Netminder Ken Dryden, the former Cornell star who used to stifle such Harvard greats as Cooch Owen and Dan DeMichele, is finding life almost as easy in the NHL. If he gets hot, the Bruins could fall once again.
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