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Goaltending Proves Critical in Game 1

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — Entering Game 1 of this playoff series, one thing was clear: The key to victory was going to be goaltending.

During Game 1, we saw exactly why. 

Neither Detroit nor Boston is a team that is going to allow many scoring chances, and as a result, neither Detroit nor Boston is going to get many scoring chances. There aren’t many clean shots that are going to get through either Tuukka Rask or Jimmy Howard.

“That’s what we pay these guys to do,” said Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock. “Both guys are supposed to be high-end goaltenders, and they got to give their teams a chance, and [Howard] has done it for us in the past in playoff time, and we just expect it.” 

As Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said after the game, this series will go to whichever team manages to capitalize on those precious few scoring chances. 

“I don’t think there were any secrets in tonight’s game,” Julien said. “Both teams played really tight defense, and that’s why there wasn’t that many scoring chances in the game. I know that throughout the game, both teams try to make small adjustments but overall, I don’t think there was any surprise out there today.”

The Bruins didn’t come into this game unaware of what Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is capable of. In the final weeks of the regular season, Howard powered Detroit to a 3-2 win over the B’s, stopping 33 of 35 shots.

On Friday night, he held strong once again, posting the 25-save shutout in the Red Wing’s 1-0 win.

“I think we did a great job of getting in front of guys in the neutral zone and allowing our defense to get back and get the pucks and break out fast,” Howard said. “I think that led to some great offensive time for us.”

That is not to discount the efforts of Rask, who stopped all but one of Detroit’s 24 shots and made a plethora of acrobatic saves, including one particularly brilliant leg stop three minutes into the third period that preserved a then-scoreless game.

“Tuukka is a great goalie, and we are going to have to keep finding ways to go to the net and get screens in front of his eyes," Howard said. "Because if he sees it, he’s going to stop it.”

Rask did his job. Going forward, it will be about to continuing to do that while the Bruins’ offense finds a way to put the puck on net.

“I think the one issue for tonight is we didn’t have the puck enough, and when we had it, we got to start putting pucks in the areas where we can get them back, and we got to get pucks in areas where once we get it, we can hang on to it,” Julien said. “And tonight, I thought we didn’t play with the puck as much as we normally do, but the one thing about our team tonight — I thought we got better and better as the periods went on. So the third period was obviously our best period, but we started playing more of our game in the third period than in the first two.”

“So we got to kind of make those adjustments here and hopefully have three periods more like the third period was and capitalize on the chances that we had.”

Howard’s play this season has been erratic, but he was at his best at the perfect time: in the second half of the season.

He carried over that strong play into Friday’s game, and what he accomplished was no small feat: He put a very young, inexperienced Red Wings team on his back and ensured a Game 1 win, on the road, against the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

“It was a good road game,” Babcock said. “It was tightly played. There wasn’t a ton of chances for either team. I thought their power play was good. Howie [Jimmy Howard] made a real big save and then we came down and scored. It was a good start for us on the road.”

“Neither team was able to get to him that much, so there was big saves to be made and he made them.”

Howard and the rest of the Red Wings know that he will have to keep those big saves coming in order to keep the Bruins at bay.

“He was huge — huge for us,” said Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar. “Lots of good saves [to] hold us the whole game, and I think this series won’t have many goals so we got to help Howie to hold his net and not to get that many freebies, any rebounds, and he’ll be able to hold us for sure.”

The lone goal of the game came with three minutes left in regulation. Milan Lucic nearly put the Bruins on the board, and immediately afterward, Pavel Datsyuk came on the other end and sniped a shot in between Dougie Hamilton and Zdeno Chara to beat Rask, glove side.

“Well, that’s how it goes most of the time,” Rask said. “One team has a chance and doesn’t score and then the other team and just capitalizes on the second chance. But you know what can you do? You just got to battle back and try to get the next one.”

The outcome of Game 1 was not what the Bruins wanted, but the way the game played out was precisely what they anticipated. There were no surprises. It was a war of attrition, and the Red Wings came out on top in this one.

The Bruins know exactly what they have to do in order to improve: get the puck, as Julien said, hold onto it in order to manufacture more scoring chances.

“It’s just one game,” said Bruins forward David Krejci. “We have to obviously play a lot better. Like I said, we have to look at the video tomorrow and make some adjustments. The next game is going to be important. It’s a bit different if you go to Detroit going in 1-1 or 0-2.”

“So, we have to do everything we can and get a win on Sunday.”

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