By Brian Cazeneuve
(Boston) -- All week the talk had been that the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins were ripe for being taken down by a Detroit Red Wings squad that had scrambled to extend its franchise's streak of playoff appearances, which now stands at 23.
Well, here we go.
The return of Detroit's marvelous Pavel Datsyuk, even though he's still working with a lingering knee injury, was widely cited as a possible series-changer, and sure enough he was the lone goal-scorer in Game 1, with only 3:01 left in regulation as the Red Wings neutralized Boston's vaunted home ice advantage with a 1-0 win in a tightly contested defensive battle.
"It's a good start," Datsyuk said after the game, " but we know there are many tough games (ahead)."
"I'll take home-ice advantage any time," Bruins coach Claude Julien said, "but that doesn't mean you can't win on the road ... which is what we have to do in this series if we plan on winning this."
Here are a few more observations from Friday’s game:
* If the opener of this series established anything, it showed both teams that they were good reflections of each another: smart, disciplined, opportunistic and well coached. It also proved that regardless of the 24-point gap between them during the regular season, they could be in for a long, grueling series.
* Considering how long the two Original Six franchises have been around, it’s hard to imagine that this is the first time the teams are clashing in the playoffs in 57 years. Of course, this match-up is a product of what the Red Wings asked for all along when they requested a transfer into the Eastern Conference. The move has greatly reduced Detroit’s air travel and trips out of its own time zone.
* Game 1 was a real contrast to many of the contests in the other seven playoff series that have featured every type of jittery play imaginable: giveaways, soft goals and bad penalties while the red light flashed surprisingly often, but the Bruins and Red Wings are two astute teams. Give Detroit credit for a playing a better game than many expected, but Boston was also fundamentally strong.
* The Red Wings had the edge in the puck possession count. Detroit kept their cycle game going for nearly 70 seconds in Boston's end with five minutes remaining in the third period before Bruins defenseman Torey Krug was whistled for a holding penalty. The crowd grew restless, imploring their B's to play like Presidents’ Trophy winners. They did, but it wasn't enough against a determined foe.
* The Red Wings only had to kill only one penalty on Friday, after Tomas Tatar took one for interference in the offensive zone, but they killed it very aggressively. Detroit’s PK requires a lot of sync because their players rotate and cover for one another. One bad pinch and their rotation gets fouled up, leaving a seam on the weak side, but on this night, the Wings had their kill down cold.
* The Red Wings made the most of two breaks, 20 seconds and 200 feet apart, to beat the Bruins. Boston had a great chance to take the lead with three minutes left in the third period as Jarome Iginla flipped a snapshot from the right point that Milan Lucic deflected off goalie Jimmy Howard and through the crease. However, the puck trickled wide of the goal. “It was a fortunate save,” Howard said later. “It was pretty lucky. I just sort of swung my glove and was hoping I’d get a piece of it.”
* On the very next rush up the ice, Detroit took the lead as Datsyuk came into the Boston zone, calmly allowed the play to drift to the net, and sent a seemingly innocuous shot that went past a screen and eluded Rask to make a 1-0. On closer inspection, Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader had set an effective pick on Dougie Hamilton, which allowed the Red Wing's momentum to carry him into the Bruins defenseman and take both players out of the play. Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, two Bruins who know a thing or two about playing defense, were just a stride away from the play, with each one on either side of Datsyuk as he released his shot. “He was by himself there,” Rask said of Datsyuk. “I had to keep him in my eyesight, but there were a lot of things going on in front of me. He’s a smart guy. He took advantage of that.”
* Bruins coach Claude Julien was smart enough to plant a seed in the officials’ minds for Game 2 by subtly referencing Abdelkader’s interference and what he felt was Detroit’s propensity to run questionable picks. None of Julien’s comments sound like accusations as much as suggestions. (“We’ll they’re good at getting in the way.”) Datsyuk’s take on the goal: "I just shot behind Abby. If I didn’t hit him, it had a chance to go in. So it’s good I can’t hit anything.”
* The game within a game between Datsyuk and Bergeron, two of the NHL's most complete players, is a joy to watch. Both are great on face-offs, clever at lifting other players’ sticks, and attentive to detail like getting angles and anticipating plays. They work harder at gaining the edge on each other when they puck is on the other side of the ice than a lot of players do when it is on their sticks.
* Julien says he doesn’t believe that his team, as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, is playing Goliath to Detroit’s David, the No. 8 seed (or second wild card) in the East. “Not with parity,” Julien said. “I don’t think that exists anymore. I’ve been mentioning that for the last couple of days, about the percentage of upsets in the first round over the last couple of years. So it just goes to prove to you that anything can happen in the playoffs. I don’t expect that to change this year.”
* Red Wings coach Mike Babcock felt that his team's win in the first game meant a lot. “Sometimes, when the upper seed gets the upper hand right away, you start questioning whether you’re good enough,” he said. “And we know we’re good enough.”
* Looking ahead ... Boston is often adept at playing dump-and-chase, especially with its bottom two lines, but stars such as Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand are perfectly adept at doing the chasing. Yet, that’s harder to do against a smart team like the Wings. “They’re right there,” Bergeron said afterwards. “They have a close, tight gap, so it’s about creating some speed and going on the offense that way.”
Bergeron added that he didn’t expect that to change. “I think these are two teams that play pretty solid systems and stick to them,” he said. “There wasn’t much on both sides of the ice. We’re going to have to expect that for the rest of the series.”
* Bruins forward David Krejci also talked about Detroit’s ability to run the Bruins around in their own zone for stretches of play. “We thought the game was faster than it actually was,” he said. “We have to play a little more with the puck. We just have to hold onto the puck and make some confident plays out there.” * Oh, brother, this must have been family night in Boston. Bruins’ forward Reilly Smith and his brother, Wings’ defenseman Brendan, were playing for bragging rights. The last time a Bruins player tangled with his brother during a playoff game, the sibling battle featured a pair of future Hall-of-Famers: Bruins’ centerman Phil Esposito and Blackhawks goaltender Tony Esposito.