And yet the Bruins still found a way.
Resilience has been a cornerstone of this Bruins team all season long. It started back in December, when a slew of injuries hit the blue line, and it continued all the way up until the playoffs began, when the Black & Gold headed into the dance without two of their regular forwards, who also happen to be two of their best penalty killers.
The B’s have kept finding a way, because what other choice is there?
The Red Wings were a desperate team going into Game 4. After taking Game 1 in Boston, they had dropped two straight — including Game 3 on Tuesday night, at home, in front of their own fans — and the difference between a 2-2 series and a 3-1 series is just about as disparate as it gets in the playoffs.
It wasn’t an elimination game, but the Wings knew they had to win. So they pulled out all the stops. They brought back captain Henrik Zedderberg, who would play for the first time since undergoing back surgery two months ago. They sacrificed speed for size, scratching Tomas Jurco in favor of Todd Bertuzzi in the hopes that big veteran would provide a much-needed net-front presence.
They pushed hard in the first period. They played their best frame of hockey of this series, and after the first 20 minutes, they had the Bruins in a new, unfamiliar position: down 2-0. It marked the Red Wings' biggest lead — and only their second lead — of this series.
That is where Boston’s experience came into play. They knew they didn’t come out strong in the first period, and they knew they were severely outplayed — the score, as well as Detroit’s 15-5 shot advantage after one, told that story. But they remained calm.
They knew what they had to do, and instead of thinking about it, they simply did it.
It took work. Thursday night was a grind. After a rough first period, Boston got its chances, but still, they couldn’t evade goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who was called upon at the final hour because Jimmy Howard had the flu.
“We didn’t have much in that first period, besides those missed opportunities,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “I just told our guys we had to get back to our game, and puck management’s a big part of our game. We’ve got some big guys that can hang onto the puck a little bit more than we did in the first period. And because we weren’t managing the puck well, the play kept going back and forth, and that certainly plays in their favor.”
“Once we settled down, that kind of got our game back on track, and that’s all I told our guys — that it wasn’t about the emotions or anything else, more than getting back to our game.”
The B’s refused to let themselves get frustrated. They got better as the game went on, they kept firing on net, and eventually, the pucks started going in.
The first came off the stick of Torey Krug. After a 4-on-4 had expired midway through the second period, he took advantage of Boston’s six seconds of power play time, firing a shot from the high slot that rocketed past Gustavsson.
One down, one to go.
Boston kept the momentum going after the second intermission, knotting the score just 1:15 into the third period when Milan Lucic took a slick behind-the-net feed from Carl Soderberg and punched it in. Tie game.
The B’s had their chances to finish off the Wings in regulation. Perhaps their best came off the stick of Brad Marchand, who missed on an open net — for the second time that night — in the third period.
But, as Marchand said, Boston didn’t have time to dwell. It had a game to win.
“You want to stick with it and stay positive and worry about getting the next one,” he said.
And they did. With six and a half minutes gone in overtime — and carrying an 11-3 shot advantage up to that point — the Bruins buried their 12th shot of the frame, a rocket off the stick of Dougie Hamilton that deflected off Jarome Iginla and into the net.
“All the games have been pretty close, and tonight was the toughest win of the series, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Iginla said. “It usually is. As it goes on, each team gets a little more desperate, and they were very desperate tonight. They had a great push in the first half and I thought we had the second half, and being up now, we want to close it out.”
“That’s the funny part about playoffs, is there isn’t as much momentum. It’s just game by game, and we want to be prepared. We want to be better than we were in the first half tonight. But it did feel good to win a hard game, and a game where everything didn’t go our way.”
Composure is not something that can be taught. It is bred out of experience, and fortunately for many of those in the Black & Gold sweaters, they have plenty of that. When they can’t bury their chances, they keep shooting until one of them goes in. When the goaltender sees that the shots aren't going in at the other and and starts feeling the pressure, he just keeps calm and carries on.
“It’s just a mental challenge,” Rask said. “We have good looks, and then we don’t score, and you know they’re going to get their shots, so I just try to stay clam and focused on my job and give us that chance to get that goal.”
Experience wins in the postseason. So does talent. But resilience helps a whole lot, too.