Bruins know life is harder living with Wings

Bruins know life is harder living with Wings
October 15, 2013, 1:00 am
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BOSTON -- The Bruins finally got a glimpse at how much tougher the Atlantic Division is going to be in this brave new world of realignment.

Instead of catching the Red Wings in a bad space while playing their third game in four days as they did a couple of weeks ago, the Bruins witnessed a very different team from Hockey Town in a Columbus Day showdown.

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were at their creative heights leading their Detroit hockey club in a 3-2 win that hopped over the Black and Gold within the divisional standings while making a strong statement. It’s as if the Winged Wheels officially announced their presence in the Eastern Conference by knocking off the reigning conference champs.

It was certainly enough to grab the attention of their hard-driving coach.

“We think we have a good team. Their team at this time is probably more NHL-ready for a long run just because they have been together longer,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “They brought over [Loui] Eriksson, [Jarome Iginla] and [Reilly] Smith, to an experienced group.

“We are a young group that has to continue to get better and better together, and we will do that.  I like what happened for our team today, confidence wise.”

For the Bruins it simply means things won’t be quite as seamless as they’ve been in recent years.

Instead of routinely bulldozing over the Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Senators in the regular season as they’ve done in recent years, the B’s have another deep, disciplined, experienced hockey team that’s going to push them to be as good as they can be. Where the Northeast Division was a little bit of a bust, the Atlantic Division has a chance to be interesting filled with four Original Six teams.

The Wings’ presence was reinforced on Detroit’s very first scoring play when Datsyuk simply took the puck away from Patrice Bergeron in the neutral zone, danced around Zdeno Chara while dangling the puck and then fed Zetterberg for a scoring chance finished off with a perfect shot.

When the play was finally over, Datsyuk had humbled the two best Bruins defenders on the ice before slipping a perfect feed to Zetterberg for the score.

“They’re well coached, and they’ve been an elite team since 1995 so they’ve been up there,” said Milan Lucic with grudging respect following the loss. “They’re hard to play against on both sides of the puck and you saw that here today.”

The Wings were also motivated on Monday afternoon in the win over the Bruins that saw them make very few defensive mistakes, get a quality emergency performance between the pipes from Jonas Gustavsson and give the kind of effort that had them outnumber Boston’s blocked shots by a 22-4 margin when it was all over.

One would have expected stalwart defenseman Niklas Kronwall to lead the Red Wings in blocked shots when things were settled, but Zetterberg nearly blocked as many shots individually (three) as the Bruins did as an entire team (4). That means even the team’s superstars were buying into the team concept just a few weeks into the regular season that will eventually make a difference.

The whopping disparity in a blocked shot category that’s all about energy, sacrifice and the will to win was eye-popping, and usually separates the winners and losers in the 30 arenas across the NHL. That’s exactly what it did on Monday for a pair of teams that know what’s required to actually win on a consistent basis.

“They were blocking a lot of shots. I thought [Jonas] Gustavsson, he was square to a lot of shots,” said Lucic. “He was doing really well getting side to side and going post to post. That’s probably the best game I’ve seen him play.

“So you have to give them credit for playing a full team game, and blocking a lot of those shots. We had chances where it could have been those rebound scrambles for pucks and they were able to block a lot of them. I think that’s what kind of stopped us from making it a 3-2 [score] earlier.”

Clearly the Wings deserve some of the credit for standing in and absorbing some punishment in exchange for a chance to win, but plenty of it also comes down to a struggling Bruins team that couldn’t cash in on five power play chances. Now the B’s will enjoy a chance to rebound this week against the other two new divisional foes in Florida and Tampa Bay.

Boston shouldn’t have much of a problem grabbing four points if they’re able to reach their potential unless Tim Thomas’ troublesome groin is healthy enough to spoil things for his former team on Thursday night. But even if they can overwhelm the largely inexperienced Panthers and Lightning clubs in their sojourn through the Sunshine State this week, the Bruins will also be keeping one eye trained on the comings and goings of the Red Wings.

Detroit has earned that kind of respect based on what they’ve consistently accomplished over the last 20 years, and what they showed Monday afternoon in muscling the Bruins out of the winner’s circle.

It won’t be easy squaring off against the Wings in the division this season and beyond, but it might just end up pushing the Bruins into being a better team when it matters most next spring.