BOSTON – In the end, it was the Boston Bruins’ experience and patience that did in the Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic also had something to do with eliminating Detroit in five games. Lucic had a goal and an assist, Chara added a power-play goal and Rask turned aside 31 shots in lifting the Bruins over the Red Wings, 4-2, in front of a sold-out TD Garden Saturday afternoon
“They really stick to their structure,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “They’ve been doing it for 2-3 years now and they know it works. We haven’t really gone through that with this group. We get away from playing playoff hockey and when you play against a team like Boston they take advantage of that.”
As was the case throughout the series, Detroit’s offense struggled against the stingy Bruins and Rask, their Vezina Trophy nominated goalie, who allowed just six goals on 152 shots in the five games. It’s the fewest goals scored in a five-game playoff series in franchise history. The previous low was eight – which was done twice – against Colorado in the 2000 Western Conference semifinals and against Chicago in the 1944 Stanley Cup semfinals.
The Red Wings reached the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive time on the strength of their younger players, who did a noble job down the stretch in the absence of star players like Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg, who were recovering from injuries.
“We weren’t a tough out at all,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We were good in Game 1 and I thought we were good for a period and half in Game 4. I thought we were pretty good in here in Game 2 in the second period. We got the game back to 2-1 and made a mistake. But to find out how good they are you’ve got to push them. You have to push them and push them. You go back and forth and win games and you get to around 6 and 7. We never did that. You never really know how good a team is until you push them.”
For the third time in the series the Bruins grabbed an early lead, capitalizing on the game’s first power-play chance. Justin Abdelkader was called for hooking Lucic in the neutral zone at 2:34, and just 53 seconds later Loui Eriksson slapped a rebound past the out-stretched arm of Jonas Gustavsson as the Red Wings’ backup goalie tried to get back into position.
Gustavsson, who was playing in his second straight game for Jimmy Howard, who was out ill, stopped 29 of 32 shots.
The Red Wings were fortunate to escape down one after the first period. But as soon as Detroit pulled even, the Bruins punched back, first with Chara’s power-play goal with four seconds left in the second. Boston built a 3-1 lead early in the third on Lucic’s third goal of the series.
"It's a tough goal but it's like all the other goals, you try to shake it off and move on,” Gustavsson said. “If you're down a goal going into the third period on the road, you still have a pretty good chance to come back and win the game. It's tough but that's something you gotta be able to go through and handle to go far in the playoffs.”
Boston’s power play crippled the Red Wings all series, but Saturday, it was toxic, going 2-for-6. The Bruins’ power play produced a playoff-leading 6-of-16 in the five games against Detroit.
Johan Franzen was the target of much criticism for not producing in the series. But the Mule showed some snarl in the second period, leading to the Wings’ first goal as well as another golden chance.
“They’re really good defensively,” Franzen said. “They play the way we want to play. They did a hell of a job. I think they maybe had a little bit more patience than us. Their special teams definitely outplayed ours in this series, both power play and penalty kill; all the credit to them. They’ve been successful for many years here in the playoffs and they’re a tough team to get to the net against, especially with the lead.”
Still, with Lucic serving a minor penalty for high-sticking Brendan Smith, the Wings’ power play managed to set up on the offensive zone, which wasn’t always the case in this series. Franzen set up in front of the Bruins’ crease and screened Rask, who didn’t see Datsyuk drop down to the goal line and fire a rebound into the open net, tying the game at 1-1 at 14:41 of the second period.
The Wings had an ideal chance earlier to tie the score in the period, but Rask, as he did all series long, came up big when the Bruins’ defense faltered, which wasn’t often. Franzen scooped up a turnover at Boston’s blueline and circled back into the zone with linemate Daniel Alfredsson on a 2-on-1 chance. Franzen’s pass found Alfredsson at the doorstep but Rask was there to thwart the play.
Detroit’s power play was more productive in Game 5, sending nine shots at Rask – that’s the most shots than any of the previous four games for the Wings’ special team. But it wasn’t enough against a Bruins’ penalty kill that was 18-for-20.
“Their power play seemed to move the puck around with great confidence,” Alfredsson said. “They did a great job finding openings, they changed it up well. Once we adjusted, they changed again. I thought our power play came on the last few games and helped us out a little bit. That’s always a big (factor) when goals are tough to come by five on five.”
The Red Wings made things interesting late, trimming their deficit to 3-2 at 16:08 of the final period, when Zetterberg fired home a rebound from along the goal line that beat Rask under his right arm.
But Iginla closed out the scoring with an empty-netter at 19:44.
“It’s no fun. You want to go deep in the playoffs,” Zetterberg said. “Obviously, right now it’s real tough. Obviously, we have to do something different to go deeper. Probably gonna have to sit down and see what we did right and what we did wrong, and change the bad things for next year.”