BOSTON (CBS) — Corey Potter made one of the best saves of Game 1 of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Long before Pavel Datsyuk scored the lone goal in the Red Wings’ victory, Potter covered up for a wandering Tuukka Rask, as the Bruins’ defenseman went to the front and blocked Darren Helm’s shot from the left point with a little more than 10 minutes elapsed.
Of course, Rask left his crease to play the puck because Potter failed to keep it in the Detroit zone at the right point seconds before. But that’s neither here nor there.
The point is in 16:57 of ice time, Potter held his own playing in his fourth game in six weeks. Andrej Meszaros, who has been in and out of the Bruins’ lineup lately, also didn’t hurt the Bruins in his 19:40. The Bruins hardly missed the injured/sick Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller.
But the fill-ins didn’t hurt the Red Wings, either. And one couldn’t really expect them to. In order to wear down the Red Wings and try to make the visitors play without the puck, the Bruins needed to ride their bigger-name, bigger-impact defensemen a little harder. They didn’t.
Zdeno Chara skated 22:05, Dougie Hamilton was on the ice for 17:23 and Johnny Boychuk played a team-high 24:33. While Boychuk exceeded his season’s average by three minutes, Hamilton and Chara’s minutes were down. That’s not something you’d expect to see in a playoff game where the Bruins are struggling to slow down the Red Wings and doing it with their seventh and eighth defensemen in the lineup.
“Yeah, again, we talk about a tough game — we don’t know if this is going into overtime, we don’t know how long a series it’s going to be,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “But at the same time, when everybody’s doing a good job, there’s no reason to cut it back, and I thought our D’s did a good job. Again, when you don’t give that many scoring chances, it means they’re doing something pretty good, so there was no need again to over-tax certain players.”
Doing a good job and doing a “winning” job in the playoffs are two different things. Although the Bruins were credited with 34 hits, they obviously didn’t do enough physically to make the Red Wings think twice about going into the corners or going to the front of the net. Too many times Potter and the undersized Torey Krug were caught out against one of the Red Wings’ heavier lines. Those shifts tilted the game toward the Red Wings. Even when a scoring chance didn’t result, the momentum and the toll those shifts took didn’t benefit the Bruins. Chara, Hamilton and Boychuk are also offensive weapons, and more time for them on the ice might’ve avoided a 0-0 tie to begin with.
When Chara’s on the ice, he not only punishes opponents, he also intimidates them. A shift against any pair that lacks Chara is like a holiday and there were far too few of them. Hamilton and Boychuk, of course, can also inflict an ounce or two of pain. But you have to be on the ice to have an impact. Sure, Chara and Hamilton were on for Datsyuk’s goal, but that score was more on Reilly Smith’s weak play in the offensive zone than anything the defense pair did against one of the most gifted offensive players in the world working a little magic on the rush.
Center Patrice Bergeron, like a few other Bruins players, didn’t want to blame the shorthanded roster for the defeat.
“I mean it’s one of those things that you can’t control,” Bergeron said. “We’ve dealt with it before, so it wasn’t something that we put any emphasis on at the beginning of the game. We just have to go with it. And we have enough depth in here, and we believe in everyone that we can all do the job.”
There are different levels of capability and the Bruins didn’t get their high-end defensemen on the ice enough. If this series goes a couple of weeks and Chara, Hamilton and Boychuk are fresher, well then it might pay off for Julien and the Bruins. But you can’t plan for games that might not be played. And as banged up as the Bruins are (forwards Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly are also MIA), there might not be too many future games to expend the energy saved in Game 1.
The time to balance out the minutes is not when you’re banged up; it’s when you get healthy. Until then, the playoffs are about sacrificing and doing things that may be out of the ordinary. It wouldn’t have killed Julien to roll out Chara and Hamilton or Chara and Boychuk a few extra times and get their minutes more in the 27, 28-minute range. In fact, if Julien did that, it might’ve killed the Red Wings.
Detroit also balanced out its ice time somewhat evenly. But they’re the underdogs, they’re healthy on the back end and they didn’t have the second change. Instead of reacting to Detroit coach Mike Babcock’s picks, Julien should’ve focused more on mismatches and giving his best players ample opportunity to affect the game.
There should’ve been fewer chances for Potter to make big saves and more chances for Chara, Boychuk or Hamilton to turn the game in Boston’s favor. And if Boston continues to miss Miller and Bartkowski, the best Bruins defensemen better be asked to do more, and in turn respond. Or they’ll run out of time.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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