BOSTON – The Boston Bruins’ rink is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide, just like all the others in the NHL.
So much ice. But in the playoff opener with the Detroit Red Wings, so little room to skate.
Pavel Datsyuk managed to find enough space in the tight-checking game to score with 3:01 left and give the Red Wings a 1-0 win on Friday night.
Now Boston has to create more room in Game 2 on Sunday or it could be looking at a 2-0 deficit with the best-of-seven series shifting to Detroit.
“We thought that the game was actually faster than it was,” Bruins centre David Krejci said. “We just have to hold on to the puck and make some confident plays.”
The more physical Bruins are usually the ones crowding opponents. They allowed the second-fewest goals during the regular season.
But the speedy Red Wings stepped up their checking and limited the opportunities for the NHL’s third-highest scoring team.
“We did a fairly good job of boxing out and playing quicker on the defensive side of things,” Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “In our zone when we got the puck we were able to get it out fairly quick. We were able to get the pucks deep and go after their defence instead.”
The top-seeded Bruins won the Presidents’ Cup with the most points in the regular season, 117. The eighth-seeded Red Wings had just 93. But Boston coach Claude Julien knew going into the series that the disparity would not be nearly as great in the playoffs, which usually feature tighter checking and physical play.
“I think we were physical enough” in the opener, Julien said Saturday. “We still had a lot of good hits. They do a good job when it comes to our forecheck. They get there, they like to have bodies in front of us on the forecheckers to kind of slow us down and we have to find ways to get through that.”
Five more things to look for as the Bruins try to gain a split:
PAVEL PRODUCES: Datsyuk averaged 23 goals in his first 11 seasons with Detroit and had 17 this year despite playing in just 45 games. He missed 16 games with a knee injury and played just six more regular-season games after returning April 4. But he came through as he has so many times to score the winning goal.
“I’ve had him for a long time and, obviously, he’s a world-class player and he’s coming back from an injury, which is obvious when you see him out there,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said, “but he can still do some very good things.”
STINGY GOALIES: Boston’s Tuukka Rask had the better numbers during the regular season with an NHL-leading seven shutouts while Detroit’s Jimmy Howard had just two. And both were impressive in the opener despite not facing many challenging shots. Rask did make an outstanding pad save on a rebound shot by Darren Helm early in the third period, and Howard knocked aside a deflection by Milan Lucic less than 30 seconds before Datsyuk scored. Expect more of the same stinginess as the series goes on.
“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 because if he sees it, he’s going to stop it,” Howard said.
POWER PLAY: The Bruins had the NHL’s third-best power play, but the Red Wings committed just one penalty. The Red Wings were 0 for 2 on Friday after finishing 18th in power-play production.
BRUINS DEPTH: Boston had 10 players with at least 10 goals and has four solid lines. But left wings Chris Kelly on the third line and Daniel Paille on the fourth were sidelined Friday and could miss Sunday’s game. The Bruins also were without two of their top six defencemen, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller. Julien said he didn’t know if Bartkowski and Miller would play Sunday.
JUST ONE GAME: The Red Wings aren’t likely to get overconfident after winning the first game, even if it was on the road. In the second round last season, they led Chicago 3-1, then lost the next three games. The Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup in six games over the Bruins.
“You don’t win the Presidents’ Trophy for not being a good team,” Detroit forward Drew Miller said. “So we’ve got to be prepared.”