A lingering concern regarding the Boston Bruins is their ability to close, to control a series and down their opponent without letting it go the full seven. On Friday, looking to clinch their spot in a heated second round match-up with the Montreal Canadiens, they momentarily silenced the critics.
After a troubling start to their first round series against the Detroit Red Wings, the Bruins seized momentum and ran with it. First it was a 4-1 win at home. Then a 3-0 shutout in Detroit, followed by a dagger of a 3-2 overtime victory at the hands of a Jarome Iginla deflection.
Still, many in Boston had their doubts. Would this be like the Leafs series? If they lose then have to go back to Detroit and then what? The thoughts settled in, the worries of paranoid Bostonians; but on Friday, the Bruins relinquished fans of those fears.
“We just knew that if anything, you learn from those experiences and you don’t want it to be repeated,” Bruins Coach Claude Julien said postgame. “So you just go out there and just play. But same with the streak we had this year — everybody talked about it. We never talked about it in the room. So we never talked about the last year’s series against Toronto. All we were focused on was doing the job today and preventing us from taking another trip to Detroit.”
With the Garden rocking early, Justin Abdelkader took a forgetful hooking penalty just three minutes in. Then, jumping on the opportunity, Loui Eriksson and the Bruins second power play unit made the Wings pay. Smooth quarterbacking by Dougie Hamilton led to the goal, as the young rookie’s maturation was on full display in the first round series against the Wings.
“I think it’s the same kind of thing in juniors or your first year where things are moving fast and by my third or fourth year it was slowing down,” Hamilton recalled postgame. “Hopefully, I can get to that point again in the NHL but I can definitely see the game a lot easier now compared to last year. Things happen a lot slower.
Hamilton blossomed as both a puck mover and defender; and his frequent end-to-end rushes were wildly impressive. His overall development has clearly gained steam.
“I think it’s just being more comfortable,” he said. “Think this whole year I have gotten better, last summer as well. So I think I’m a better player and just more comfortable. I don’t really know otherwise. Just having fun right now and trying to do my best.”
As the game ensued we continually waited for Detroit’s desperation to break through. On the brink of elimination, it’d only be a matter of time. After generating their first real scoring chance of the night with just under ten to go in the middle frame, they finally found their skating game. A combination of good goaltending and defensive structure, the Bruins limited the Wings as much as possible and weathered their initial rush.
But a Milan Lucic penalty changed everything. Detroit gained possession in Boston’s end, and it was Pavel Datsyuk (yet again) batting home the rebound off a blast from the point. The game was tied at one with momentum shifting drastically. This Bruins team is different though and they keep trying to show us that. They’ve responded time and time again this season, and perhaps their biggest response in the biggest of forms (both literally and figuratively) came on Saturday afternoon.
After Detroit netted arguably the biggest goal of the series, the Bruins got it right back. With a crucial four-on-three advantage in hand, it was the almighty captain Zdeno Chara with the enormous response in the form of a one-timed missile; Patrice Bergeron set up the captain with the perfect feed from the corner.
“It was getting tight. A lot of penalties, and again, when you’re killing a lot of penalties, you’re losing some momentum, and they picked up a lot of momentum there at a certain stage of the game,” Julien said. “And when you score those kind of goals — obviously Zdeno [Chara]’s kind of gave us the life back, or the momentum back, that we needed because they had just gotten it from us. By that time in the game, you could see that they had a sense of believing, so we had to right away get that next goal and get ourselves back on top of that game.”
At that point there was no looking back for the Bruins.
Milan Lucic extended the lead to 3-1 after a terrible Detroit turnover found the stick of Torey Krug, who centered the puck to the big winger. After a late scare, the Bruins added an empty-netter and won the first round series 4-1. Their date with the Canadiens was set, but it wasn’t time to think of that just yet.
“We knew they’re through and that’s who we would be playing. But no, guys were just focused on today and trying to end it today,” said Iginla postgame when asked about their next opponent. “There’s really no discussions about Montreal. So the next couple days we’ll be thinking about it, and we’ll get back at it, and work and those matchups will start. But today was just about the Red Wings and trying to advance.”