Score one for the little guy, actually in the Bruins’ case score two and a Game 1 victory.
The Bruins got the tying goal from 5-foot-9-inch rookie defenseman Torey Krug and the winner with 15 minutes and 40 seconds gone by in overtime by everybody’s favorite mighty mite, Brad Marchand, to take the measure of the Rangers, 3-2, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night at TD Garden.
Boston’s other goal came from a man a foot taller than both Krug and Marchand, towering defenseman Zdeno Chara. It was fitting because this series is going to take every inch of the Bruins’ roster to win.
The difference between the Bruins and the Rangers is much smaller than that between Chara and his diminutive teammates. You don’t need a measuring stick to separate these teams. You need a microscope.
The Bruins like to do things the hard way, and John Tortorella’s Rangers like to make the game hard to watch, so get used to more close encounters of the one-goal kind.
It could be the theme of this playoff showdown between two teams who share an evangelical devotion to defense and aren’t separated by much talent-wise.
This series could be tighter than the strings on a tennis racket with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist tending goal for the Blueshirts, and Tuukka Rask, who was more than Lundqvist’s equal in Game 1 with 33 saves, in net for the Bruins.
“Obviously, they got a good goalie over there,” said Marchand, who picked a perfect time to net his first goal of the playoffs. “They do an incredible job of blocking shots. They don’t let a whole lot through. When they do they’re boxing out, so it’s tough to take his eyes away. It’s going to be a battle to get goals in there, and we have to make sure we battle hard in front.”
That’s exactly what Marchand did on his game-winner, warding off 5-7 Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello in a flyweight battle for puck position to tap a feed from Patrice Bergeron past Lundqvist and give the Bruins their third overtime win of the playoffs and second straight.
This wasn’t the Miracle on Causeway Street against the Maple Leafs that propelled the Bruins into the second round, though.
This was more like the manacle of Causeway Street, as both teams put the handcuffs on the other early on.
The Rangers came in leading the playoffs in blocked shots at 161. They are hockey human shields.
The Bruins peppered the Rangers with 48 shots, 16 in an extra session dominated by the boys with the Spoked-B on their chests, and New York blocked 29 others in the game.
“They have a good team. They don’t give you much. You saw that tonight,” said Chara, who logged a Herculean 38:02 of ice time. “One goal decided the game.”
Despite their geographic proximity, the Original Six foes were meeting in the playoffs for the first time in 40 years. It seemed like it might take that long for a goal to be scored after the first period was a 0-0 display of vulcanized rubber viscosity.
The Bruins finally cracked the code on Lundqvist and broke the stalemate at 12:23 of the second. Chara blasted a slap shot that leaked through Lundqvist and then appeared to be knocked into the net by the scrambling netminder. That snapped Lundqvist’s scoreless playoff streak at 152 minutes and 23 seconds.
There was one goal combined in the first 39 minutes and 58 seconds of the game, and then three goals scored in the next 2:57, spanning the end of the second period and the beginning of the third.
It looked like the Bruins were going to go into the second intermission with the lead, but defenseman Ryan McDonagh struck from long range with 1.3 seconds in the period to tie the proceedings.
Just 14 seconds into the third period, New York struck again. Carl Hagelin teed one up for Derek Stepan, who beat Rask to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
New York’s lead was short-lived thanks to a rookie defenseman from Livonia, Mich. Krug, only in the lineup because of the depletion of the Boston blue line corps by injury, scored on the power play at 2:55 of the third, making his first career NHL playoff game one he’ll never forget.
It was the first goal of the diminutive defenseman’s NHL career, and it couldn’t have been bigger for the Bruins.
“The Krug goal was huge,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “It couldn’t have come a better time. Those [young] guys back there don’t lack confidence.”
Neither does the cocksure Marchand, who led the Bruins in goals during the regular season with 18, but had yet to find the net in the postseason.
A little pep talk from former Bruins locker room sage Mark Recchi gave the Lil’ Ball of Hate a boost and his Midas touch around the net.
“It’s nice to finally get one there and get the monkey off my back,” said Marchand. “Hopefully, they keep coming.”
The Bruins are going to need all the goal scoring they can get in this series because it’s not going to come easy.
If Game 1 was any indication, the ruler of this series is going to be the one who wins the game of inches.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.