(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
A team that won 54 games. Led the league in points. Was top three in team defense and scoring. The Boston Bruins encapsulate all that is a first place Stanley Cup contender. A “well-oiled machine” that coasted through the end of the regular season with victory after victory. They won so many games they even had time to rest their best players at season’s end. They’re a given in the east, right?
There’s still something though–something missing. And it isn’t good. Deeply rooted in the makeup of the group, it is their inability to play the way they want to unless pushed to the limit; almost forced to. If they win the Cup, there are no complaints–doesn’t matter how they got there or how they did it. But this ongoing theme could come back to bite them at some point.
The excuses were there for Game One. Corey Potter, Justin Florek and Jordan Caron all forced into game action. The lingering “flu bug”. Whatever it may be. But it was the Bruins top players who really struggled. They couldn’t breakout, couldn’t get through the Detroit Red Wings’ “wall”, failed to establish a forecheck and generate any sustained offensive attack. Given their regular season success, it was tough to watch.
And the Bruins now found themselves in that similar situation–playing poorly at the start of a playoff series. Its been way worse, yeah, but Game Two was as “must-win” as it got to this point of the season. And just like the previous postseason runs, with their backs against the wall, it brought out the best of their play.
Not wanting to head to Detroit down 0-2, the team responded.
“Yeah I think we played more of our game, and kind of took the hesitation out of our game. I think that was there in that first game,” Milan Lucic said of his team’s effort. “I know we talked about how important this game was ever since the loss, and it was good to have a response here to get the series back to 1-1.”
The Bruins started the game exactly as expected. They were physical, broke out their zone well, sustained an attack and thumped the Red Wings with that awfully imposing style of play we’ve grown accustomed to watching here in Boston.
Florek capitalized on a god-awful turnover by Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, who chose to play the puck and make an errant pass rather than clearing it or covering up for a whistle. Later, Reilly Smith scored on the power play extending the lead to 2-0. Loui Eriksson’s phenomenal net-front presence and screen of Howard allowed the puck to sneak through, with Smith eventually slamming home the rebound.
“Getting pucks to the net was obviously a big factor, especially last game not scoring a goal,” Smith said postgame. “So I think power plays definitely helped us in the start and changed the tide. You know we’re not getting too many pucks to the net at the start, and then you get the 5 on 3 and you’re able to fire as many as you want. So that does definitely change the pace of the game and we benefited off of it.
It was as big of a turnaround as it could get for the Bruins, who headed to intermission with a two-goal lead.
The second period felt more like Friday’s game. The Wings maintained puck-possession, whizzing around the Bruins zone and reeking havoc in front of Tuukka Rask’s net. After yet another failed power play, they finally cashed in on their first goal of the game. Darren Helm beat Jarome Iginla off the half-wall with a nifty shimmy and shot the puck past Rask, off teammate Luke Glendening and into the net. Bruins defenseman Torey Krug still has work to do in his own end, which was apparent on the goal after failing to step up once Helm beat Iginla.
But it’s a 200-foot game, and he quickly redeemed himself.
Shortly after the Detroit goal, Krug went on an impressive rush and sprung Lucic with a tape-to-tape neutral zone feed. Lucic and Iginla then worked the perfect give-and-go, resulting in Lucic’s first tally of the playoffs and third Bruins goal of the game. After a lifeless start to the middle frame, the Detroit goal was the needed fix to revive the sleeping bear, and get the home team rolling again.
“It’s not really an each line thing or whatever. But it definitely feels good if you can get things going in the right direction as a line and feel like you’re contributing,” Iginla said postgame. “But also we’re trying to be physical and each line is trying to be physical and other things, but it definitely felt good to see Looch [Lucic] put that one in at the end of the second, that was a big goal for us.”
It was all Bruins from that point forward. While Detroit’s urgency showed in the shot column, their chances were limited to the outside and the Bruins netted the only third period goal, cruising to a 4-1 victory and evening up the series.
“I think last game, we mentioned that they were winning more races, their battles, their will to get to the puck first and hang on to it was better than ours in Game 1,” head coach Claude Julien said postgame. “But tonight, I think we were a little bit better in all areas, from our breakouts with their pressure to the neutral zone, where we were able to get through that with a little bit more speed today than we did the last game, and able to get our forecheck going like we talked about doing after Game 1.”
With the series now tied, can the Bruins take care of business in Detroit and get out of this first round fairly easily for once?
This being their best club in years, paired with the maturation of the core, they should be able too. But as previously stated, Game One was the needed “butt-kicking” to bring out the real Bruins club, what’s it gonna be next? Hopefully nothing. Just go out and do it. You’re better than them.
FROM THE ROOM: