BOSTON (CBS) — The 17,565 fans in attendance at the TD Garden on Friday night did not see what they wanted to happen on the ice, but the hockey world at large saw exactly what was expected.
The Bruins, the best team in the Eastern Conference and arguably the entire NHL, faced off against the Detroit Red Wings, a team that finished much lower in the standings but still boasts a solid, structured system that is routinely difficult to beat in the playoffs.
And when the puck dropped on this series after what felt like an eternal wait this week, the game played out exactly like it should have.
Both teams imposed their will on the other for extended stretches of time, with the ice tilting back and forth like a seesaw. Shots were tied 16-16 through two periods, a perfect picture of how closely these two teams battled.
The game was essentially in “next goal wins” mode right from the opening faceoff, and that goal finally came with 3:01 left in the third. Pavel Datsyuk, a wizard among hockey players, navigated his way through the neutral zone before cutting across the high slot and firing a wrister past Tuukka Rask for the game’s lone goal.
It was a phenomenal play by one of the best in the world to wear skates, and that’s what it took to decide this game.
The Bruins lost the game — and home ice, in the process — but Claude Julien’s attitude after the game was one of a head coach expecting his team to be involved in a long series.
“It was a tight checking game, but nonetheless I think everybody’s gotta find a way to create more,” Julien said of his Bruins, who attempted just 42 shots toward net, compared to Detroit’s 54. “That’s going to be the challenge in this series, with two teams playing really tight. So it’s about everybody working a little harder and gaining your space and doing what you have to do here.
“But it’s a long series, we predict, and if you look at tonight, it’s probably a good indication of that.”
Julien also showed he’s prepared for a long series with the way he managed his lineup. With Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller both out due to the flu, the Bruins dressed Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter for Game 1. Chris Kelly (back) and Daniel Paille (concussion) were out of the lineup on the third and fourth lines, respectively, and their spots were filled by Justin Florek and Jordan Caron.
Potter and Florek, in particular, were inexperienced, with Potter playing just three games for the Bruins in the final two months and with Florek having just four total NHL games to his resume heading into Friday. Yet Julien was content to let Potter spend 17 minutes on the ice while sending Florek out for 13 minutes. Potter even spent 1:37 on the ice during the Bruins’ two penalty kills on the night.
Part of Julien’s insistence on playing the inexperienced guys for as long as he did had to do with not wearing out his veterans, Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk.
“We talked about [it being] a tough game — we don’t know if this is going into overtime,” Julien said of his mind-set on the bench. “We don’t know how long the series is going to be. But at the same time, when everybody is doing a good job, there’s no reason to cut it back. I thought our D’s did a good job. … There was no need to overtax certain players.”
If Friday night’s Game 1 was any indication, those taxing nights are still on the horizon. Neither team gave up many quality scoring chances to the opposition, and both teams stood up to each other in the physicality department. Some of that crossed the line, such as Milan Lucic sticking Danny DeKeyser between the legs late in the second period.
While Julien didn’t address that Lucic incident specifically, he did speak to the overall attitudes of these two teams.
“Respect is a word you use because the other team is a good team and they’re in the playoffs, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what goes on on the ice. Once the puck is dropped, you play the game, and that’s what both teams intended to do tonight,” Julien said. “I think both teams are out there trying to win a series here, so there’s no time to be holding hands out there and trying to make friends or trying to make enemies. It’s about going out there and playing for your team.”
For the Bruins, it’s going to take a more measured offensive approach. Lucic’s near tip-in of a feed from Jarome Iginla just before the Datsyuk goal was the Bruins’ best — and probably only — real scoring chance of the entire evening.
“I felt like we thought the game was faster than it actually was,” said David Krejci, whose top line managed to get just four shots on net. “We figured it out at the end of the third period, and we played a little bit more with the puck, so we just have to hold on to the puck and make some confident plays out there. And that’s pretty much it. I don’t think we had too many offensive scoring chances today, but I feel like if we play well with the puck, then we’re going to create some pretty good scoring chances.”
Against a team that is as suffocating as Detroit can be, that’s not always an easy task. But the Bruins didn’t win the President’s Trophy by only doing what was easy, and it should be safe to expect a revamped approach from the B’s come Sunday afternoon.
It’s just as safe to expect one heck of a series, the type where seven games just doesn’t seem like enough.
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