BOSTON — After Game 1, everyone seemed to want to talk about Detroit’s young stars — their composure, their speed, their will to take down the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins.
After Game 2, there was a role reversal: It was all about Boston’s young guns.
Riley Smith and Justin Florek — both playing in their second career NHL playoff games — registered their first playoff goals to stake Boston to a resounding 4-1 win over the Red Wings in the second game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“I think we were a little bit better in all areas, from our breakouts with their pressure to the neutral zone, where we were able to get through that with a little bit more speed today than we did the last game, and able to get our forecheck going like we talked about doing after Game 1,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “So we were able to put pucks in areas where we were able to get on them quick or get to the pucks first.”
The importance of getting a win in Game 2 could not be overstated. After losing Game 1 by a 1-0 margin on Friday night and failing to bring their trademark physicality to the ice, the Bruins calmly went about their business during Saturday’s practice, knowing all the while that they would have to impose their will on the Red Wings in order to head back to Detroit with an even series.
All season long, the Bruins have insisted they are a team that doesn’t just talk about doing something — they actually do it. On Sunday, they proved that. And they had their young stars to thank for getting the ball rolling.
“When we play that style of hockey, everybody is going and everybody feeds off of each other,” said defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “It gives us a little bit more room out there, too, to try to make plays. Just being physical, I think if we continue to do that, it will help us out even though they are a very fast team. “
Rookie defenseman Kevan Miller was back in the lineup on Sunday after missing Game 1 with a flu virus, and he made his presence known in his first career playoff game. He was physical, fearless and determined, and it showed from his first shift to his last. He registered four hits on the afternoon, second only to Boychuk’s five, and he personified the approach the Bruins needed to have coming into this game.
“It was really important for us to come out and get the crowd engaged,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “When you see guys like Miller’s first couple shifts, he’s out there blowing guys up and [David] Krejci is playing the body — that’s when he is at his best in the playoffs. Our whole team – it spreads through our team like fire, and it’s important.”
Miller played Bruins-style hockey, and it was too much for the Red Wings to handle.
“Millsy, right from the start, I thought he helped set the tone with a couple of big hits, and I think they were within the first five minutes,” said forward Jarome Iginla. “I mean, he looks like he’s about to get hit and he still hits the other way, so he reverses and he brings a lot of energy, but he still moves the puck well and he’s a tough guy to beat. But he’s just – he’s a very strong competitor and it was great to have him back on the lineup and set that tone early.”
Florek’s goal also helped to set the tone for Boston, and given that it was the first goal of the day, it was a huge momentum boost for a team that desperately needed one after the way things transpired on Friday. About seven minutes into the first period, Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard attempted to send a pass to defenseman Brendan Smith along the boards, but Florek forced himself in and got a hold of the puck, then spun around and fired the shot past Howard.
It marked the Bruins’ first goal of the 2014 postseason, and it came off the stick of a player who was recalled on an emergency basis just days before this series began.
“It was a good present there,” Florek said. “It was good to get the team going. I think that was the biggest thing — get some momentum in the building. So that was a big start for us.”
“I think getting that first one was huge, especially after not being able to get one past them last game,” said forward Milan Lucic. “Sometimes, all it takes is a lucky bounce like that to kind of turn the tide and get some confidence and momentum in the goal-scoring department. So great job by him pouncing on the puck to get that first goal.”
With the 1-0 lead in hand, the Bruins were unrelenting. They were confident, and the Red Wings were anything but. After Florek’s goal, Detroit committed two penalties in succession, the second of which — a slashing penalty on Danny DeKeyser — cost them dearly. Reilly Smith struck on the ensuing power play, swiping in a loose puck after some impressive net-front battling by Loui Eriksson.
“First goal usually dictates the game, and usually ends up winning,” Smith said. “So it was good to get those first two early, and I think it just gave us a little more energy and added a little extra intensity to the game.”
The goal, which came about midway through the first period, gave Boston a 2-0 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. While a two-goal deficit is never insurmountable, it certainly seemed that way to the Red Wings on Sunday, given the pace of the game and given the Bruins’ energy.
“It’s all about momentum in the playoffs,” said Red Wings forward Riley Sheahan. “They played a great game and they were physical. I mean, there isn’t anything we can do now, so we’ve just got to take it back to Detroit, regroup, and go from there.”
Last year, it was the Bruins’ young defensemen that carried them through the first two rounds of the postseason. On Sunday, at least, it was two young forwards, neither of whom entered the game with much playoff experience but both of whom came in with one goal in mind: Play Bruins hockey.
“I think we’re probably one of the best teams in the league at playing that heavy style,” Smith said. “So we got them off their game a little bit, and I think they got us off our game in Game 1. So it was good to see a little change of pace, and I think it benefited us in the long run.”