BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins didn’t mess around with a long series against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round the way they did with the Toronto Maple Leafs a year ago.
This time around, the Bruins closed out in Game 5 on TD Garden ice by defeating the Red Wings, 4-2, Saturday to advance to face the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.
Last year, Boston let the Maple Leafs off the mat. Toronto won back-to-back 2-1 games and then in Game 7 led by three in the third period before the Miracle on Causeway Street.
In the midst of the Maple Leafs’ comeback in the series, defenseman Dougie Hamilton was just a bit player. He played in three games of the series and totaled just north of 45 minutes of ice time. Defenseman Torey Krug wasn’t even with the Boston Bruins, as he was still skating with the Providence (AHL) farm club awaiting his recall when Dennis Seidenberg was hurt in Game 7.
One year later, the Bruins finished off the Red Wings on the strength of both suffocating defense and a more dynamic offense that seems to gain its strength and creativity directly from its two young defenseman that weren’t cast in important roles against Toronto.
The 20-year-old Hamilton, who finished the series with a three-game point streak and 1-3-4 totals for the five games, was at it again on Saturday. He set up the first goal of the game, a power-play score by Loui Eriksson, 3:27 into the contest. That goal took some of the tension out of the Bruins, who rebounded after later letting Detroit tie the game.
Hamilton had scored his lone goal in the series on a similar play in Game 3, as the Red Wings showed little respect for his skating and backed off him like he had the plague.
“I think that their PK kind of changed every game and I don’t know if I was expecting to skate it in again, but [Reilly] Smith and Loui both told me to skate with it and they were just going to back up,” Hamilton said. “That’s what I had in mind and just had to make another play to get through. Like I said, I guess it was just a good bounce and then a good finish.”
Krug, who was a revelation for the Bruins last season after that Toronto series with four goals in a five-game second-round win against the New York Rangers, set up Milan Lucic for what proved to the be the game-winning goal at 4:27 of the third period. Like Hamilton before him, the 23-year-old Krug took the open ice in front of him in the Detroit zone and then fed Lucic in front of the Red Wings net.
“I was holding onto the puck, waiting for something to open up,” said Krug, who scored a goal in Game 4 and had four assists in the series. “For some reason their defenseman, or I don’t even know who it was, just left Looch in front by himself and it was an easy play.”
Hamilton and Krug have mastered the art of — and gained the confidence to execute — these aggressive plays in the offensive zone. Oftentimes they look like mirror images of one another, with the left-shooting Krug working his way down the left side of the attacking zone to feed the middle or the point one shift, the right-shooting Hamilton doing the same thing down the right side.
There may be a reason their offensive games – even though Krug clearly is a little more gifted with the puck than Hamilton, who can’t be expected to do it all considering his more-difficult defensive assignments – are starting to look similar. They’re close buddies that communicate and share intel on opposing teams on the bench and in the dressing room.
“I think he’s able to make a lot of good offensive plays and has really good awareness in the offensive zone, and passing and vision and things like that. So I think we try to talk to each other on the bench as well and help each other out, if he sees a play where I can shoot or things like that, and I kind of try to help him offensively as well,” Hamilton said.
Added Krug: “Well it’s a good relationship that Dougie and I have. We’re both young guys learning in the league. And obviously we’re different players but anytime you can give your teammates tidbits … I think everybody helps each other as well.”
It only seems like Hamilton and Krug make the right decisions about pinching every time on the ice. Coach Claude Julien quickly pointed out that video of their wrong decisions from this season is available in his office. But the mistakes have decreased, and the scoring chances have increased as both have learned from their miscues in their second full pro seasons.
“But that’s how they learn. You have to teach along the way,” Julien said. “Because they were allowed to do that, sometimes you learn from your mistakes and get better. So every day these guys spend time looking at their shifts and we spend time teaching them the right time to go and not to stay in there too long and when to come back out. So they’re young players who are getting better all the time, they have learned. So that is to their credit.”
The Bruins haven’t had one, let alone two, play-making defensemen like Krug and Hamilton during Julien’s term, or in the 21st century for that matter. Assuming an upward trend in their games, Hamilton and Krug could be the difference against the Montreal Canadiens and in making the end of this Bruins’ run different than the ending they had last season in the Stanley Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
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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