One versus Eight. David versus Goliath. Any way you want to frame it the Boston Bruins are heavy favorites over the Detroit Red Wings. But it’s tough to call the Red Wings- a team who’s now made the playoffs 23 consecutive seasons, with proven veterans- a true underdog, and Coach Claude Julien agrees.
“Not with parity, I don’t think that exists anymore,” he said at Friday’s morning skate. “I’ve been mentioning that for the last couple of days, about the percentage of upsets in the first round over the last couple of years. So it just goes to prove to you that anything can happen in the playoffs. We’ve seen it many times before and I don’t expect that to change this year also.”
One thing the Wings had for them heading into Friday’s game was a couple hits to the Bruins overall depth.
With Chris Kelly out, no longer centering one of the league’s best third lines and providing a reliable penalty kill presence, Justin Florek got thrown into the fire. Daniel Paille was knocked out the second-to-last regular season game after a hit to the head, forcing him to miss Friday’s contest as he tries to recover. Jordan Caron took his spot.
Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski- who had both vehemently proved their top-sixth worth for Game 1 play- both sat out due to injury. Corey Potter and deadline acquisition Andrej Meszaros filled in.
Most of the talk surrounding the Bruins has been about their top two lines, but the team’s typically been at it’s best when their depth supports their defensive system and provides an offensive punch.
With Kelly, Paille, Bartkowski and Miller all out- they were tested from the get-go.
The replacements faired well in the first period of play. Caron ignited the crowd with an early hit, and created a chance with a centering pass later in the first. Potter also had a noticeably successful period, logging the fourth most ice-time on the Bruins back end, including effective penalty kill time. Florek was also effective on the penalty kill.
“It’s a great feeling, just knowing that he [Coach Julien] trusts me and everything,” Florek said postgame. “I’ve just got to keep working on both ends of the ice, move forward, and build that trust along the way. So, I’ve just got to keep presenting myself, getting opportunities, and doing my best out there.”
Although the Wings outshot the Bruins 11-9 and had the only man-advantage, the game was scoreless after 20.
The second period told a different tale. The Wings were all over the Bruins. It’s not confirmed that this “flu bug” is still taking its toll on some players, but the Bruins certainly played like it in the second. Legless, lifeless, the team was down 21-9 in shots attempted and playing with fire. It was as a great start for the Wings, but the Bruins still had time to find their game. We thought.
While the team showed signs of life early in the third period, and even garnered some momentum with a power play opportunity, this sustained attack just wasn’t there. Detroit was getting to pucks first, eliminating any chance Boston had at their cycle game, halting any offensive momentum the thought they had.
“Well as I said, it was a tight, checking game, but nonetheless, I think everybody’s got to find a way to create more and that’s going to be the challenge in this series with two teams playing really tight,” Julien said postgame. “So it’s about everybody working a little harder and then gaining your space and doing what you have to do here. But it’s, you know, it’s a long series. We predict if you look at tonight, it’s probably a good indication of that.”
The game was over just moments after the Bruins best opportunity. After Jarome Iginla fed Milan Lucic with the perfect deflection-oriented pass, it looked like the Bruins would go up 1-0; but the puck trickled through the crease, and it was Pavel Datsyuk with this magician-like hands, corralling the puck at the other end of the rink and ripping a wrist shot past Rask giving the Wings a 1-0 lead and ultimately, the first game of the series.
While the gut-punch will be tough for most for most Bruins fans to swallow- the team’s been here before; and quite often at their best in these exact situations as well.
It’s unfortunate, and you would think with lessons learned paired with veteran leadership the team has gotten past the point of needing that adversity, that extra emotion to bring out their will to win and the best of their play, but that remains to be seen.