BOSTON – If the giddy overconfidence and unhelpful chest-thumping were ever present for the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins headed into the playoffs, they are both certainly gone now. Most understood heading into a best-of-seven series with a talented Detroit Red Wings that it would be a tough draw for the Boston Bruins, and now there is a considerable body of evidence after the Wings took Game 1, 1-0, at TD Garden on Friday night.
“We were ready for a tough and long series, and we’re in for that,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We’re fine with it.”
Pavel Datsyuk did his thing while striking for the game-winner late in the third period, and the Red Wings showed why they are worthy of Boston’s respect as the well-coached Sons of Mike Babcock. Detroit did an admirable job of clogging up the neutral zone with bodies like it was a 1992 Pearl Jam mosh pit, and seemed to have a stick or a body on every Bruins player each time they tried to make a play with the puck.
Even more importantly, the Red Wings won the all-important puck possession battle, and never allowed Boston to set itself up in the offensive zone. That’s why there were no bodies in front of the net for the Jimmy Howard rebounds, and why there was no sustained pressure in the offensive zone to pressure Detroit’s young, unproven defensive corps.
“We thought for some reason that the game was way faster than the regular season, obviously it is. We had more time than we thought we had. We figured it out in the third, and thought we had some chances,” said David Krejci, who took a fair amount of physical abuse while managing just a couple of shots on net in the Game 1 loss. “It was a pretty tight game on both sides, not too many scoring chances.
“It was tight so we have to find a way [to generate speed]. I feel like we have to go really deep, and we hold onto the puck than we will have some more time on the breakouts. But we didn’t do that. We have to come down on the breakouts. Forwards will get it and come up the ice as a line, all three guys with the same speed. I don’t think we did that. It was pretty tight in the neutral zone. We have to look at the video tomorrow and make some adjustments.”
What Krejci is basically saying is that the Bruins’ system of breakouts was completely out of whack thanks in small part to rustiness after five days off, and in large part to a Red Wings team that was looking to gum up Boston’s offensive works. On Friday morning Red Wings coach Mike Babcock lamented the loose defensive play that led to 48 goals scored in the first seven playoffs games.
It was pretty clear early in Friday night’s game that Babcock and Claude Julien were concocting something a little more low-scoring, and with a lot fewer mistakes and turnovers.
“I didn’t think there was much rolling around by either team in their offensive zones. Both teams were really efficient. There wasn’t a lot of room,” said Babcock. “There weren’t a lot of chances. There was a lot of blocked shots—not a lot of pucks going in [to the net].”
Perhaps the biggest concern was the muted level that some of Boston’s best players were operating at throughout the game. Datsyuk shook free of the Zdeno Chara/Dougie Hamilton defensemen pairing to score the game-winner, and the KIL Line (Krejci, Iginla, Lucic) managed just four shots on net between throughout the entire game. Lucic looked frustrated enough that he used his stick to spear Danny DeKeyser in the groin from behind at the end of the second period.
While it’s good to have Lucic playing with a nasty edge, pitch-forking DeKeyser with his stick was stomping way over the line less than a month after he pulled a similar stunt with Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin.
The frustration leading to the spear was perhaps offensive in nature for Lucic, but probably more so that the B’s hulking left winger couldn’t line up the Wings defenseman for routine punishment in the corners.
Detroit was proving too quick for the Bruins to catch, and that is one of the major concerns headed into the playoff series. The other was a disciplined Detroit team that will play a straight game, and leave the Bruins to their own devices in trying to find a proper level of emotional engagement for the playoffs. Both of these factors led to the Bruins not playing nearly enough with the puck on their stick, and that needs to change if Boston is going to impose their will on a bottom-seeded Detroit team.
“We didn’t have the puck enough. When we had it, we’ve got to start putting pucks in the areas where we can get them back. We’ve got to get pucks in areas where once we get it, we can hang on to it,” said Claude Julien. “I thought we didn’t play with the puck as much as we normally do, but the one thing about our team tonight — I thought we got better and better as the periods went on.
‘The third period was obviously our best period, but we started playing more of our game in the third period than in the first two. We’ve got to kind of make those adjustments here, and hopefully have three periods more like the third period was, and capitalize on the chances that we had.”
Because it’s the Red Wings with proven Cup champions like Babcock, Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall, Darren Helm, Johan Franzen and a whole host of others, the Bruins clearly entered into this playoff series with the proper amount of respect. But there’s also a sobering realization that the Bruins will have their hands full with a Detroit team brimming with confidence after fighting their way into the playoffs.
Boston seems to know they’re in for another long series in the first round.
“It’s just one game. We have to obviously play a lot better. We have to look at the video tomorrow, and make some adjustments,” said Krejci, the NHL’s leading playoff scorer in two of the last three years. “The next game is going to be important. It’s a bit different if you go to Detroit going in 1-1, or 0-2. So we have to do everything we can and get a win on Sunday.”
Perhaps it’s just in the DNA of Julien and his Bruins teams that the first round is always going to provide a challenge no matter how they prepare for it. The smart, gritty play of the Red Wings on Friday night certainly deter anyone from thinking Boston might just have another Game 7 overtime game on their hands at the end of the first round.