BOSTON — Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk is a magician with the puck, and his ability to keep possession and create quality scoring chances for his teammates is remarkable.
“Pavs is one of the best players in the world,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said after earning a 25-save shutout in a 1-0 Game 1 victory over the Boston Bruins Friday night at TD Garden.
“He’s so great at that puck-possession game and holding onto it and working it. Finding guys that are open, and he’s pretty slick with the puck too. One of his better attributes is his shot. He’s a pass-first guy, but he’s got one of those shots and one of those stick blades that you can put a lot of movement on it.”
Datsyuk was the difference in the series opener.
He controlled the puck, created space for his teammates, killed penalties, and completely neutralized Boston’s second line of Patrice Bergeron, Reilly Smith, and Brad Marchand with stellar defensive play.
But his most important contribution was the game’s only goal, which was scored with 3:01 left in the third period and just after Bruins forward Milan Lucic nearly gave his team a lead with a deflected shot that trickled past the left post. Just as linemate Johan Franzen was losing control of the puck in the neutral zone, Datsyuk reached back to grab it and skated his way into the Bruins’ zone. He then fired a wrist shot past Rask, using a few bodies in front of him as a screen.
“The puck was probably four or five feet behind him, and he was able to pick it up, do things that no one else can do. We’ve seen it before, and he did it again,” Red Wings D-man Niklas Kronwall said of Datsyuk after the game.
Puck possession is a pillar of Detroit’s game and was a key part of its victory Friday night. Datsyuk is the catalyst, and it was evident during Game 1 when he constantly brought the puck into the attacking zone with clean entries, protected the puck and made the smart play.
“The one issue for tonight is we didn’t have the puck enough,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “When we had it, we didn’t put pucks in areas we can get it back.”
The Red Wings had a corsi-for percentage (puck-possession stat) of 56.3, compared to the Bruins’ mark of 43.8. At even strength, Detroit dominated possession with a 58-42 corsi-for percentage advantage over Boston. Datsyuk earned a 58 corsi-for percentage, and that’s really impressive because he went up against Boston’s No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara for over three quarters of his even-strength ice time.
Datsyuk played 16.1 minutes at 5 on 5. Chara was on ice for 12.4 of those (77%). Begeron, Marchand, Smith, Hamilton 63%+ as well.—
Extra Skater (@ExtraSkater) April 19, 2014
With captain and top-line forward Henrik Zetterberg out of the lineup because of an injury, Datsyuk is the focal point of the Red Wings game plan at both ends of the ice. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion with 103 points (36 goals, 67 assists) in 140 career playoff games.
“(Datsyuk is) a world-class player,” Detroit Red Wings head coach said. “He’s playing against a good player, (Patrice Bergeron) is a heck of a player and knows how to play and make it hard on (Datsyuk).”
If the Bruins are going to survive this series, they must find a way to take away Datsyuk’s time and space with the puck. If that doesn’t happen, he will pick apart the B’s with his magical playmaking skills and help Detroit take a commanding 2-0 series lead back to Joe Louis Arena.
Advanced stats via Extra Skater