BOSTON -- Even as recently as a year ago, the Bruins' just-concluded playoff series against the Red Wings would have been unthinkable.
Not because of what they B's did (i.e., taking a Detroit team that was a veritable hockey machine five years ago en route to a Stanley Cup title in 2008). Because of how they did it.
A lot of what happened in Boston's 4-1 series victory was predictable: The Bruins holding the Wings to just six goals in the five games. Only allowing four Detroit players to score. Tuukka Rask stopping 146 of the 152 shots he faced and not allowing a soft goal through the entire series. Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug finishing as point-per-game players. Milan Lucic scoring three goals while perfecting a King Kong chest-thumping goal celebration that should drive fear into just about everybody else in the NHL.
What they couldn’t have been predicted was the way in which the Bruins’ revamped power play has turned into a deadly weapon capable of decimating an opponent. The Bruins scored six power-play goals in the five games against the Red Wings, and shredded Detroit’s penalty kill unit by scoring at a 37.5 percent success rate (6-for-16).
That’s a far cry from the pop-gun power plays of yesterday, when the Bruins hoped and prayed that Tomas Kaberle could be a difference-maker for them.
“Getting the power-play goals that we were able to in this series, if you look at them, they were all huge, huge goals,” said Lucic. “Our power play has been good for us all year. I think it finished in third in the overall standings throughout the season, so it’s nice that it’s a weapon instead of something that’s kind of taking momentum away from us.
“But also you got to give credit to our penalty killers, especially [in their 4-1 victory Saturday in Game 5]. We had a lot of time on the PK . . . and the special teams ended up being a lot bigger than most people would have thought.”
As Lucic pointed out, the Bruins' penalty kill unit held the Red Wings to a 2-for-20 performance on the power play in the five-game series . . . part of a completely dominate special-teams showing for the Black and Gold. But it was the power play that continually gave the Bruins energy and timely goals while spreading offense out up and down the lineup.
Zdeno Chara’s power-play score with just 3.8 seconds remaining in the second period broke a 1-1 tie and propelled the Bruins to victory in Game 5. The man-advantage prowess was distributed during the series among Chara (two goals), Krug, Loui Eriksson, Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith (one each).
In fact, it was Hamilton who continually broke down the Red Wings' penalty-kill unit with his aggressive, one-man rushes up the ice, and left Detroit coach Mike Babcock searching for answers after the series was over.
“I thought our penalty kill let us down,” said Babcock. “It was so good all year and then for whatever reason, we got ourselves rattled. We gave up two goals [in Game 5]. And I’m not trying to take anything away from Boston, but ones off the rush there were outside the dots and even the second one, on the four-on-three [power play], they go underneath us. So those are two things you can’t do. I thought our penalty kill let us down.
“I don’t think we played up to our level. I’m not trying to take anything away from Boston: real good team, real heavy team, real organized, all those things. But you want to be the best you can be, and I didn’t think we were. It was a real good experience for our kids. We had lots of kids in this series that were important parts of the team that got us in the playoffs, and they found out how hard it is.”
While it’s understandable Babcock found fault with a penalty-kill unit that’s normally a reflection on the coaching staff, the Bruins' power play has been doing that to teams all season.
Krug and Hamilton are agile and versatile point men, able to move while finding shooting lanes to the net and executing the perfect passes when those seams open up. Chara and Lucic are practically unbeatable as big bodies down low near the net that screen the goaltender, carve out space in front, tip point shots and go hard into the corners for 50/50 puck battles they rarely lose. Eriksson is an underrated player in that mold on the second PP unit along with Carl Soderberg, and both units feature enough skill players in Smith, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla.
There was a time when the Bruins would shake their heads and wonder how their PP could be so bad -- they scored five power-play goals through the first three rounds of the 2011 playoffs, compared to the six they just scored in five games against the Red Wings -- and now all they can do is shake their head and marvel how good the power play has become in three short years.
“The power play has helped us a lot through this series, and it certainly makes it a lot easier," said coach Claude Julien. "We’ve won before without having a successful power play, but when you’ve got that arsenal, it certainly makes it a lot easier. Our penalty kill’s been great since the beginning of the playoffs and we need to continue to be a strong in both those areas, and we were.”
Credit the Bruins players for helping make the power play so successful, and certainly credit the Bruins coaching staff – including PP architect Geoff Ward -- for having the moxie to put Chara in front of the net to start this season. The arrival of Krug made it possible for the Bruins to put their 6-foot-9 captain in front of the net, and that was one of the real game-changers for Boston’s special teams unit.
Where once the Bruins had a huge Achilles heel known as the power play, one no longer exists for a team that has no discernible weakness after dispatching the Red Wings in five efficient, tidy playoff games.