BOSTON — Justin Florek has been preparing for the postseason - just not exactly with the NHL in mind.
Florek and the Providence Bruins had a strong season, and the playoffs were on the horizon. But on April 15, Florek got the call to head up to the Boston Bruins on an emergency basis. Both Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille were - and still are - out of commission, dealing with a back and head injury, respectively, and Florek was the backup plan.
So long, Providence . . . hello, Boston!
Florek skated in 69 games this season with Providence, registering 19 goals and 19 assists with a plus-17 rating, good for second on the team. With Boston, he had four games under his belt with a goal and an assist.
To say that anybody expected Florek to be starting Games 1 and 2 of the NHL playoffs would be a stretch. But here he was again in Game 2, playing the left wing on the Carl Soderberg line with Loui Eriksson.
And then . . . he scored. Florek netted the Bruins' first goal of the postseason, perhaps the least likely of candidates to do so. But this is the NHL playoffs, where anything - and everything - can happen.
And that was certainly the case for this goal in particular. Detroit had dumped the puck back into their own end so they could get a line change in. Florek decided to add pressure as Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard left the net to clear it to the side. As Howard attempted to clear it, the puck bounced off his teammate, Brendan Smith, who was along the sideboards. Florek was in the right place at the right time as the puck bounced to him and he quickly shot it before Howard could recover.
From there, the B's were in control.
"It was good to get a shot on net there and luckily it went in," Florek said of his first career postseason goal, "but I think the momentum in the building, the atmosphere, just really picked up and I think we carried that on the rest of the game."
"Yeah, I think it was great for him," Claude Julien said. "It was also great for the team, I think, to give us that early lead and really get that confidence going, that energy that we were looking for. That was a big goal for us, so it was great to see him stay on it and react well and quick enough so that it ended up being a good goal for us.
Howard didn't have much of an explanation for what happened, but tried to downplay its significance.
"I was talking with Jim [Bedard, goalie coach] and he said it flipped up a little bit and just sort of sailed," Howard said. "You know it’s hockey, it’s a bad break and just unfortunate for us. It happened, I don’t think it had anything to do with the outcome of anything. You know it happened and it got them rolling a little bit in the first period."
Florek did score his first NHL goal already, but it came in a loss to the L.A. Kings. That put a damper on things. But not this time.
"Yeah, I can definitely enjoy this one a little more than the past couple times I've had points," he said. "It's a great feeling. I've had two days to think about that loss, and you know, how I felt about that. I definitely want to keep this feeling after a win for the rest of the way. So it's great."
And if you didn't think Florek's story could get any better, get this: Florek is a Michigan guy. Hailing from the town of Marquette, Michigan - which borders Lake Superior, Florek grew up cheering on the very same Red Wings he played a huge hand in beating Sunday.
"I watched the Wings growing up as a kid, so to score against them, it's awesome," Florek said. "It's a great feeling. It's the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so it's every kid's dream to do that, and it's just amazing."
The goal did not go ignored by his teammates after the game. They see the work he's put in to roll with the big club on short notice, and how important it was to get things going on Sunday.
"Obviously the fortunate bounce, [Justin] Florek did a good job putting it in the back of the net," Shawn Thornton said. "I think, we kind of see the reaction on the bench I am sure the guys were very happy especially for him. I mean it’s his second game and gets rewarded with a goal. He has been working hard for us the whole time he has been up here, so, happy to see that.
And while much of the focus will be on Florek's goal, he also played a role in the B's not allowing a power play goal on Sunday. Detroit went 0-for-4 on the power play, and Florek had 2:12 minutes of penalty kill time.
"Yeah, I kill a lot in Providence and it’s a bit part of my game I think," Florek said, "and something I contribute to the team. So it’s great to be able to come up here and do that and be confident with it."