Shawn Thornton was excellent in Game 1 Friday night. In 8:52 of ice time, the fourth-line right wing landed two shots on goal. Thornton dished out five hits, including one textbook finish of David Legwand along the boards in the third period.
The puck was on Thornton’s stick. He did good things with it. The tough guy could have used some company.
The Wings won a close one, 1-0, at TD Garden. A Pavel Datsyuk snap shot off the rush was the only puck that eluded either goalie. Jimmy Howard turned back all 25 pucks. It was one of the easier shutouts the former University of Maine standout ever posted.
The Bruins’ best players weren’t their best players. The first line combined for four shots on goal. No. 2 right wing Reilly Smith didn’t put a single puck on net. The third line, which had a favorable matchup against Detroit’s No. 3 pairing of Brian Lashoff and Jakub Kindl, didn’t become unglued until the third. It’s never a good sign when Thornton is one of the most dangerous offensive players. But that’s what happens when you’re chasing the game.
“The one issue for tonight was that we didn’t have the puck enough,” said coach Claude Julien. “When we had it, we’ve got to start putting it in areas where we can get it back. We’ve got to get pucks in areas where once we get it, we’ve got to hang onto it. Tonight, I didn’t think we played with the puck as much as we normally do.”
The Bruins were the better team when they ragged the puck below the dots in the offensive zone, in the corners, and along the walls. Their beef, smarts, and straight-line skating made them a handful. The Wings’ defensemen are smaller, mobile puck movers. They’re not big. They got in trouble when the Bruins chewed them up in the danger areas.
But the Bruins didn’t jam the puck into those areas enough. They made the game too easy for the Wings.
When the Bruins’ top two lines are rolling, they use the neutral zone as a launching pad. The forwards rev up their wheels and gain momentum as they enter the offensive zone.
If they carry the puck over the blue line, opponents can’t slow them down. If they chip the puck behind the defensemen and into the corners, they have enough speed to retrieve it and start their cycle.
But Detroit turned the neutral zone into quicksand.
“It was tight,” David Krejci said. “We have to find a way. I feel like if we go really deep and hold onto the puck, we’ll have some more time on the breakouts. But we didn’t do it. We have to come down on the breakout — forwards go get it and come up the ice as a line, all three guys at the same speed. I don’t think we did that. It was pretty tight in the neutral zone. We have to look at the video tomorrow and make some adjustments.”
Detroit put on a puck-possession clinic in the second period. The Wings attempted 21 shots. The Bruins managed only nine. The Bruins did a good job of filling lanes. They blocked 10 of Detroit’s 21 attempts.
But that’s playing with fire. And that’s playing without the puck. Those are two things no team wants to do.
Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla are far more effective when they’re controlling the puck and using their speed and size on the forecheck. They’re not doing their team any good when they’re pursuing a puck that’s zipping on and off their opponents’ sticks.
The Wings were very good in two areas: center ice and their own end.
In the neutral zone, the Wings jammed up the Bruins. The Wings always have been proficient at slight holds, hooks, and interferences. They aren’t infractions. Certainly not in the playoffs. But they work well in slowing down opponents just enough to throw off their rhythm.
“There’s certain areas where we have to get better at, obviously, to create more scoring chances,” Julien said. “We’ve got to find a way to get to the net. We’ve got to find a way to get some more shots there. They really play a tight game where they make it hard for you to get there. They get their bodies in the way. We’ve got to work through those kinds of things a little bit to create a little bit more and get some goals.”
In their own zone, the Wings rallied around Howard by building multiple layers of protection. The Bruins couldn’t breach their perimeter and get inside the dots. In the third, the first line’s best chance took place when Iginla spotted Lucic driving to the net. Lucic’s tip went wide left.
The Bruins took too many one-and-done fly-bys. Aside from a few flurries by the third and fourth lines, Howard didn’t have to scramble to turn back second shots. Howard made the first save. That was usually enough.
The Bruins settled into their game in the third period. They attempted 15 shots compared with Detroit’s 14. On their only power play, courtesy of an ill-advised offensive-zone interference penalty by Tomas Tatar, both units generated good looks. They landed two pucks on net.
But that man-up momentum didn’t translate into even-strength pace. When Tuukka Rask went off for an extra skater, the big boys took the ice: Lucic, Krejci, Iginla, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Torey Krug. They couldn’t score the equalizer.
The lead dogs have to be better on Sunday.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.