Could Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers Revive Their 70s, 80s Glory Days?

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Could Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers Revive Their 70s, 80s Glory Days?
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Boston Bruins sophomore scorer Tyler Seguin enters Thursday night’s matchup with the Edmonton Oilers on an exact 50-goal pace.

Should he retain that pace through a full 82-game schedule, he will be the first Bruin to reach that elite echelon since Cam Neely in 1993-94. He will join Neely, along with Rick Middleton, Ken Hodge and Phil Esposito as the only Boston skaters to reach that feat since the dawn of the Bobby Orr era.

The visiting Oilers have a prized rookie in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is presently on pace to log 35 goals and 70 points if he stays the course and suits up every night in 2011-12. But more strikingly, in defiance of broad prognostications, he could be seeing bonus action in the coming spring. After a full month in the regular season, Edmonton is tops in the Northwest Division and second in the Western Conference with a 9-3-2 record.

This is not to say that Nugent-Hopkins, fellow young guns Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and the rest of the Oilers will continue to achieve ahead of schedule in the immediate future. Nor is this to say that celestial numbers are in the bag post haste for Seguin. And sorry, but there is no chance Seguin and the Bruins will come to duplicate the output of, say, Phil Esposito and his 76, 66, 68 and 61-goal campaigns. Ditto these Oilers and the otherworldly years of Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.

Nonetheless, you can hardly fault the fanbases in Boston and Edmonton for being stimulated by the possibilities for the coming years. There is no reason not to watch Thursday’s game―the second NHL encounter between Seguin and Hall and the Bruins’ first look at Nugent-Hopkins―and fantasize about them crossing paths in the Stanley Cup finals someday.

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No shame in letting a new generation of rooters envision their own remake of 1988 and 1990, when Gretzky and Messier clashed with Neely and Ray Bourque on the NHL’s final frontier.

Bruins fans currently have nothing to complain about, with their team having just splashed a 39-year title drought through a lineup that was more balanced and gritty than star-studded. But they cannot help but hunger for more glamour and glory down the road.

That appetite, and however much fulfillment it ultimately gets, begins with the burgeoning Seguin.

Meanwhile, since their team vanquished Boston to win its fifth title in seven years in 1990, Edmonton fans have received no real gratification through either grit or glamour. But if players like Hall and Nugent-Hopkins continue to develop like each of the last two No. 1 overall draft picks, why shouldn’t that change within the next decade?

The Oilers have not had a single-season 40-goal scorer since Mark Messier’s final year with the team in 1990-91, when Petr Klima had a peak 40-28-68 transcript.

Since then, no more than two Edmonton skaters have hit the 30-goal range in a single campaign. A total of 13 individuals have accomplished that feat on the Oilers’ behalf in the last two decades, including four such seasons by Ryan Smyth.

The Bruins have had some flashes of exceptional splendor since Orr and Esposito each departed, but for multiple reasons, it didn’t gain any lasting traction for anybody.

Middleton, Peter McNab and Barry Pederson all cracked the 40-goal plateau at various points in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the years since the two Boston-Edmonton encounters in the Cup final, Neely has had three years of 50-plus goals. Adam Oates charged up 45 in 1992-93, Bill Guerin inserted 41 in 2001-02 and Glen Murray charged up 44 in 2002-03.

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But not unlike Orr, Neely’s lower body failed him prematurely, while Oates, Guerin and Murray were one-year wonders.

With Seguin and an abundance of relatively young teammates, including the Bruins’ longest-tenured forward in Patrice Bergeron, there is enticing potential for a core of mass producers.

Bergeron, who has centered Seguin’s line for the better part of this young season, is himself on a convincing pace for a revolutionary 2011-12 campaign. He is already riding into Thursday night’s contest on his longest point-getting streak since before his lengthy, injury-induced absence in 2007-08. If he keeps up his performance, Bergeron could break into the 60-point range for the first time since 2006-07 and log up to 50 assists for the first time since the Bruins drafted him in 2003. And this is the guy who is ostensibly going to inherit the captain’s “C” from Zdeno Chara at some point.

Boston and Edmonton have each logged one championship banner since Orr and Gretzky left their respective franchises. But those latest Cup confections were both missing an especially rich and sweet layer of icing, because they were not piloted by a most prolific scorer (no offense, Messier).

Each franchise now has a chance to build up to one of those historically lionized star-studded Stanley Cup teams. All of the initial seeds for both parties will be on the Garden ice for everyone’s viewing pleasure Thursday night.

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