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Billington shuts down Devils as Ranford arrvies (1/14/96)

Sunday, January 14, 1996

Bruins fight back Billington saves day as New Jersey gets punched out
Nancy L. Marrapese, Globe Staff

It was a startling contrast, unlike any that had been seen this season.

After the Bruins' 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the New Jersey Devils yesterday at the FleetCenter, everyone was pointing fingers at the goaltender. But in this case, they had come to praise rather than vilify him.

On the day that newly acquired netminder Bill Ranford was due to touch down in Boston from Edmonton, the only goalie's name on anyone's lips was Craig Billington.

Billington has started 14 of the last 15 Bruins games. In the last 11, he is 7-2-2. Yesterday, his 34 saves were the biggest factor in a game in which the Bruins trailed, 2-0, less than 16 minutes into the first period but rallied for three straight goals, including two in the third period, against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Billington's most telling moment came in the second period at 13:59 when he turned back one of the most dangerous players in the game on a shorthanded breakaway -- Stephane Richer, who has made the Bruins pay throughout his career.

"If you just could've heard the noises on the bench," said center Ted Donato, referring to when Richer took off alone up the ice. "It was like 'Uh, oh,' 'Oh, no,' 'Oh my god.' There was all sorts of that. But Biller made a great save and literally half the bench jumped to their feet. It was a huge save because it kept us in a one-goal game."

Indeed it did. Left wing Mike Peluso and center Neil Broten had scored at 3:17 and 15:47, respectively, to give the Devils a 2-0 advantage, which translates to about 6-0 the way New Jersey plays with a lead.

But left wing Dave Reid pulled the Bruins within one at 18:30 with his 15th goal of the year.

The Bruins, who had been outplayed for the most part through the first 40 minutes, came alive in the third period. Cam Neely tied it at 6:43 with his 23d goal. Neely skated the puck up the right side and dished it to left wing Todd Elik in the right circle. Elik, in turn, fed it to Adam Oates on the left side and Oates backhanded a pass to Neely, who was steaming down the slot, and he beat Martin Brodeur.

Oates said he was actually passing it back to Elik.

"Todd and I had a little two-on-one," said Oates. "I was set up for a one-timer to shoot it but he threw it to my other side so I hung on and threw it back against the grain and both guys charged the net and Cam tipped it in. I was throwing it back hoping Todd stopped, but Cam just kept following the play."

As pretty as that goal was, the third was just as fluky.

Donato was taking a faceoff in the New Jersey zone to the right of Brodeur. He had started against forward Bobby Holik but when a Devil jumped in the circle, Holik was tossed out and in came left wing Brian Rolston. Rolston tied up Donato, but Donato got a skate free and kicked the puck back to Raymond Bourque at the left point. Bourque took a shot that caromed off the skate of defenseman Ken Daneyko and into the far side of the net. Brodeur had no chance.

"The key to the whole play was even though it took me a while to get it back there, [Steve Leach] held up his guy," said Donato. "Daneyko tried to make a skate save and it went in the net. That's one of those breaks we haven't been getting."

The Boston net early in the season was a focal point for criticism, skepticism and blame. But Billington has backstopped the Bruins to their recent success and though management feels Ranford will vault to No. 1 as early as tomorrow, the players yesterday felt Billington deserved his reward.

"We were fortunate the way Biller was playing, he kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win," said Neely. "It was nice coming in after the second period down one goal and knowing that we can play better but that they played pretty well. We wanted to do this one for Craig."

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