BOSTON — The Bruins evened their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon with a 4-1 victory that was made possible by stellar special teams.
Boston has dominated on special teams all season and was one of two NHL teams to rank in the top 10 of power-play percentage and penalty killing.
After the referees decided not to call many obstruction, holding, interference and roughing penalties in Game 1, the action was officiated much closer in Game 2, and the Bruins took advantage.
Boston converted on two of its four power plays (one goal from each unit) and killed off all four of the Red Wings’ extra-man opportunities. Through two games, the Bruins are a perfect 6-for-6 when shorthanded.
The Bruins made a strong effort to crash the net and establish more traffic at the crease in Game 2. This adjustment made it difficult for Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard to see the puck, which resulted in him giving up many more rebounds than he did in the series opener at TD Garden.
Boston’s first power-play goal was made possible by Loui Eriksson screening Howard at the top of the crease. As the shot from the point came into the blue paint, Howard wasn’t able to track it and cover the puck. This allowed Bruins winger Reilly Smith, who went hard to the net for a potential rebound, to pounce on the loose puck for his first career playoff goal.
“It’s been a strength for us throughout the season, and we’ve just got to keep making plays and take our chances when we have them on the (power play),” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “It’s not always going to be pretty, it’s going to be those goals where you have to chip away and get those second or third shots. And you saw the two goals that were scored there on the (power play in Game 1) they were right in the crease.”
Boston was determined to knock Detroit off its game by getting involved in scrums after the whistle. Howard wants his team to stay away from the extracurricular stuff to avoid taking too many penalties in Game 3.
“I think we got to stay out of the BS out there and just play whistle to whistle, and not worry about getting into the scrums or anything like that and proving your manhood out there,” Howard said. “Just skate, play our hockey, don’t get into their motive and get into their scrap playing real physical. Just get back to playing our game.”
A series that is greatly impacted by special teams does not favor the Red Wings. Their power play ranked 18th during the regular season and is 0-for-6 through two playoff games. Making matters worse is the injury to top-line forward Henrik Zetterberg, who plays a key role in generating scoring chances with the man-advantage.
“They were engaged. They won the battles. They were quick, we were slow,” Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said after Game 2. “We didn’t execute, and then on the power play, I thought their penalty kill forecheck was good. Well, on special teams, they won the faceoffs, so they cleared it down. Their penalty kill forecheck was good, our power-play breakout failed to execute, so we got no zone time.”
“We weren’t very good on special teams, anyway you look at it. They won the special teams battles.”
If the Bruins continue to win the special teams battles, they will put themselves in a position to return to Boston with a chance to close out the series in Game 5.