BOSTON — The key matchup in the Bruins and Detroit Red Wings first-round series is a battle of two elite centers in Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk.
These former Selke Trophy winners do a little bit of everything. They provide leadership, play on special teams, score clutch goals, and dominate defensively.
Bergeron called his matchup with Datsyuk a “great challenge” prior to Friday night’s series opener, and it proved to be just that. Detroit’s No. 1 center scored the game’s only goal and shut down the Bruins second line, which features Brad Marchand, Reilly Smith, and Bergeron.
In the build up to his goal, Datsyuk stole the puck from the Bruins in the neutral zone before heading up ice. Bergeron and Marchand were in the area, but couldn’t prevent the Bruins from losing possession. The mistake proved costly.
Datsyuk also played a key role in the Red Wings’ ability to control possession of the puck and maintain consistent offensive-zone pressure. This allowed Detroit to earn a 58-42 corsi-for advantage (a possession stat) and out shoot Boston 25-24. The Bruins were unable to create many quality scoring chances because the Red Wings — specifically Datsyuk’s line — were winning puck battles, getting the puck out of their own zone quickly, and making the smart, simple plays in transition.
“I’ve had (Datsyuk) 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 head coach Mike Babcock said after Game 1. “But he can still do some very good things, and he knows how to play without the puck. He’s playing against a good player. (Bergeron) is a heck of player and knows how to play and makes it hard on you.”
Bergeron (30) and Marchand (25) finished tied for first and second, respectively, on the Bruins in goals scored during the regular season. Smith ranked fifth with 20 goals. This is one of Boston’s most efficient lines, and it if doesn’t score goals, generate quality chances, or build offensive momentum, it will be tough for the Bruins to win this series given their bottom-six injuries. The absences of third-line winger Chris Kelly and fourth-line winger Daniel Paille weaken the B’s scoring depth, which forces the first and second lines to carry the offensive burden.
Datsyuk spent about 68-percent of his even-strength ice time (11:10) against the Bergeron line in Game 1, and he held the Bruins trio to just three shots on goal, one missed shot, and zero points. This kind of performance from the Bruins’ second line isn’t good enough against a Red Wings team that clogs the middle of the ice to force opponents to shoot from the outside, and sometimes uses a neutral-zone trap to prevent clean entries into their zone.
The Red Wings’ scoring depth has been severely weakened by injuries to top-six forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Stephen Weiss, in addition to Daniel Alfredsson’s struggles offensively (one goal in his last 12 games). Detroit’s chances of winning if Datsyuk fails to make a strong impact offensively are extremely small. The Red Wings lost 13 of the 18 games in which he failed to tally a point during the regular season.
This is why it’s so important for Bergeron to shut down Datsyuk. He’s the only healthy Detroit forward capable of taking over a game with extraordinary skill.