Stealing a game in Boston is what it was all about for the Red Wings, heading into a series against the President’s Cup winners as almost an afterthought in the playoffs and big underdogs against the Bruins.
One-third of the Wings’ forwards were playing in their first playoff game, and their defense is young, too.
But the Red Wings were undaunted.
Sticking to a game plan that emphasized speed, getting the puck deep, aggressiveness on the fore-check and effective movement out of their own zone, they beat the Bruins 1-0 Friday night.
The Wings played their system, by and large, and a good road game. It seemed to take the Bruins out of theirs. At time, it was as if Boston could not press the initiative because they were spending too much time accounting for the Red Wings’ speed.
The young Wings reduced the matter to a game for the taking.
And then, they took it.
Red Wings 'settle in'
Asked what was important about the play of his young team going into the game, Mike Babcock made it sound rudimentary.
“We just need to settle in and play,” he said.
From the start, the Red Wings seemed to approach their first game in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season as if they had seen it all before.
Tomas Tatar helped with an early rush, shot and rebound, at 1:34 of the first. Five minutes later, the shots were four for both teams.
By the middle of the first, the Wings were seizing the initiative, leading 7-5 in shots and tilting the ice towards the Bruins end.
At the end of the first, the Red Wings looked consummately comfortable.
And it was clear that discomforted the Bruins, who kept looking for an edge the Wings never game them. The Red Wings played such a controlled first period that it seemed to force the Bruins to account for them rather than fore-checking, bottling up the Wings and generating offense.
Howard beats Rask
The stats say Howard had his worst regular season. Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, seems destined to win the Vezina Trophy, with his .930 save percentage during the season and the same sparkling number for his career in the playoffs.
But Howard beat Rask in Game 1.
Both goalies gave up sizeable rebounds. Both made big saves.
But Rask missed one shot, and Howard stopped them all.
Howard made a huge save when a cross-ice pass by Torey Krug came to Jordan Caron at point blank range. But Howard’s crisp, quick move to his left allowed him to just barely meet the shot with the bottom of his left skate.
He made a huge left pad save on Todd Marchand 25 seconds into the third.
Then, at 16:30, he preserved the scoreless tie with a huge save as Milan Lucic cut to the net and redirected a pass from the sideboards. Howard managed to get a glove on it, deflecting it to his left goalie pad and then out, harmlessly, behind him.
That save, and Howard’s performance, generally, was only magnified moments later when Pavel Datsyuk scored the winning goal.
When it came, it came in a flash from the most talented offensive player on the ice.
Johan Franzen sought to advance the puck along the right wing, at the Red Wings blue line. But he had trouble with one of the Bruins back-checking.
It nearly created a turnover.
But, as if out of a bolt of lightning, Datsyuk reached far, far behind him with his stick, took the puck, shuffled it forward through his own legs, took it on his forehand and was gone, through center ice and into the Bruins zone.
It was one of those moments of “Datsyukia” in which the brilliant Wings superstar seems to skate while others watch.
With Justin Abdelkader driving two Bruins defensemen towards Rask, Datsyuk let a wrist shot rip.
It hit the back of the net.
Speed beats brawn
The Bruins are capable of running some teams right off the ice with a physical game of body-checking and intimidation.
Marchand and Patrice Bergeron did their chirping. But the Red Wings, even the youngest, seemed utterly unfazed.
At 34-26 in the Bruins’ favor, the hits were probably more even than anyone expected. And the Red Wings were giving as good as they got.
Other than Lucic delivering a two-handed upper cut with his stick between Danny DeKeyser’s legs, the Bruins’ physical game did little damage and was not intimidating.
Mistakes? Who, us?
The young Wings limited their mistakes.
The Bruins gave away the puck seven times, the Red Wings four.
The Wings played a detailed, disciplined game, strong on the fundamentals they hope will carry them.