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B's Special Teams Serves as Difference-Maker in Game 2

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — There were several differences between the Bruins and the Red Wings in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

In the eyes of Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock, the laundry list was long: He said his team was just plain ineffective. He said his players weren’t engaged, they didn’t win battles, they were slow.

But one of the biggest differences between the Bruins and the Red Wings was on special teams — and, as a result, on the score sheet.

“I think our power play has been good — as you know, a lot better this year,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “And the big thing was, can they continue to produce for us in the playoffs? And that’s an important part of the game."

“Penalty kill, to me, is extremely important [also]. Our penalty kill right now is doing a pretty good job, but when you have both units being able to do the job right, it helps a lot, and obviously it was a big difference in [Sunday’s] game — the penalty kill being so good and getting those power play goals.

Two of Boston’s goals in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Detroit came on the man advantage, and the impact was enormous, given that in a Game 1 loss, the B’s managed to draw just one penalty and were unable to convert on the power play.

On Sunday, though, the Bruins played their game. They were physical, they were aggressive, and they coaxed the Red Wings into seven penalties, three of which came within the first 10 minutes of the game.

Those ensuing power plays gave the Bruins a prime opportunity to seize some much-needed momentum, and they did — and they never gave it back.

“It’s been strength for us throughout the season, and we’ve just got to keep making plays and take our chances when we have them on the PP,” Julien said. “Like you saw there, it’s not always going to be pretty — it’s going to be those goals where you have to chip away and get those second or third shots.”

The first power play goal came off the stick of Reilly Smith midway through the first period. With Loui Eriksson clogging up the crease, Smith sneaked in behind Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard and swiped the puck into the net to give the Bruins an early 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Smith’s effort was impressive, but so was that of Eriksson, who made the most of his 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame in order to screen Howard.

“The goal is to let him see the puck, so especially when you’re on the one-man advantage, you got to take care of that and make sure you do have some net-front presence and move the puck well and take what’s there,” said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. “But I think bringing the puck on net is something we’ve improved.”

Added Eriksson, "I want to be in front, and that's where the goals are scored. I thought some guys did a great job [on Sunday] being in front, and we got some goals from it, so we need to do that."

Boston’s other power play unit got on the board about two minutes into the third period with a goal that was equally critical. The Red Wings played a strong second period and, at one point, pulled within a goal on a strike by Luke Glendening. Boston regained it’s two-goal advantage with less than two minutes remaining in the frame.

Three minutes into the third, with Detroit's Kyle Quincey in the box for roughing, Zdeno Chara was camped out in front of the net -- where he’s been so effective on the power play this season -- and extended Boston's lead to 4-1 by tipping the puck past Howard. Given the pace of the game and the unrelenting physicality the Bruins were bringing to the ice, it was a lead that seemed insurmountable to the Red Wings.

“[Chara] tipped it and found it and banged it back in,” Julien said. “He’s been practicing that quite a bit. He’s taken the time to get better at that, and that’s been a big help for him. His size was obviously a really important part of why we put him there.”

Added Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who has had to deal with Chara’s screens in practices, “He’s a pretty good screener. He’s become a lot better at it. He’s got such a long and strong stick that he can bounce on those loose pucks, like he did on that goal. It’s definitely a challenge. I’m just happy for him that he’s getting rewarded for the work he’s put in.”

The Red Wings had their chances on the man advantage as well: They, too, drew seven penalties.

But the Bruins were just as effective on the penalty kill as they were on the power play, refusing to allow a single strike. Boston's strength on the PK was a recurring theme throughout the regular season, but it was not a given heading into the playoffs, with two of their best penalty killers — Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille — out for the first two games of this series with injuries.

“We weren’t very good on special teams, any way you look at it,” Babcock said. “They won the special teams battles. We weren’t very good [in Game 2]. Give them credit: They were better, and we didn’t respond. We didn’t play faster.”

With Paille and Kelly out, David Krejci has stepped in to fill the void, and he has seemingly done it with ease.

David Krejci hasn’t killed much this year — he’s killed in the past, and he’s been a good penalty killer,” Julien said. “We’re, I guess, blessed with a lot of them this year, where we’re able to save David for the line following a penalty kill. But we need him now. He stepped up. So guys have done a good job. Our regular guys continue to do a good job on it, but then new guys have come in and really stepped up and replaced those missing guys in a good way.”

The Bruins' game plan going into Game 2 was simple: They needed to play their game. They needed to be physical and draw penalties, and they needed to capitalize on the ensuing opportunities.

In that sense, they did exactly what they needed to be done as this series transitions to Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday and Thursday.

“Obviously, we’ve got to keep getting better and adjusting to some of the stuff that we see on the ice,” Bergeron said. “That’s the nature of playing a best-of-seven. I mean, you got to adjust after every game, and I think we like the way we played their power play [on Sunday] afternoon, but we still got to make sure we keep playing well, keep adjusting and keep getting better, because they’re going to do the same thing.”

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