For 56-plus minutes of Friday night’s game between the Bruins and Red Wings, it was a duel between goaltenders.
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and Boston’s Tuukka Rask put the lid on tight and it appeared the teams would play well into the night.
But with 3:01 remaining in regulation, veteran center Pavel Datsyuk came to the rescue and his goal was the difference in a 1-0 victory at TD Garden that gave Detroit a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.
Howard made the save of the night just seconds before, getting a piece of Milan Lucic’s redirect of a Jarome Iginla shot.
“I think that was a fortunate save,’’ said Howard, who stopped 25 shots on the way to his third career playoff shutout. “It was pretty lucky. [Lucic] stuck his stick out and he got a lot on it. I just sort of swung my glove backwards and I was able to get enough on it for it to change direction, so I was pretty lucky. It was one of those nights.’’
Although it took some time for both teams to find their legs, Howard knew he had his work cut out for him.
“They’re such a good team and they’re so deep and they’ve got so many weapons,’’ said Howard. “I just want to get myself to stop as many shots as possible for the guys. They’re so hard on the forecheck and they’re big and physical. They can put guys through the boards so we don’t really have a choice. We have to go out and execute fast.’’
As the game moved along, with no pucks finding the back of the net, Howard said he mentally acknowledged the strong play in both ends.
“I try not to think about that too much,’’ said Howard. “But it’s a game within the game and Tuukka’s a great goalie. We’re going to have to keep finding ways to go to the net and getting screens in front of his eyes because when he sees it, he’s going to stop it.’’
Although he was blocked from seeing Datsyuk’s winner, Howard did get a front-row view of how strong the Red Wings defense was.
“I think we did a great job of getting in front of guys in the neutral zone, allowing our [defense] to get back and get to pucks and break out fast,’’ he said. “I think that led to some great offensive time for us.’’
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said he thought Howard would be very focused going into Game 1 and he was right on target, but Howard said the sport is so unpredictable, you can’t be sure.
“You never know how it’s going to unfold,’’ said Howard. “You can definitely have a feeling that you’re going to play well, but until you get out there, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Crazy things can happen in this game that you just can’t control. You’ve just got to go out there and play the game.’’
One area where Howard wasn’t shy was playing the puck, which is something he picked up from watching teammate Petr Mrazek, who was masterful against the St. Louis Blues in the final regular-season game.
“Watching Petr, he doesn’t hesitate, he just goes out and does it,’’ said Howard. “You’re never too old to learn something new, so thanks, Pete. That’s one of his strengths, so watching him play the puck and move it in practice and during the game on Sunday, I just like how he doesn’t double think anything, he just goes out and does it.’’
Although it was important for the Red Wings to earn at least a split in Boston to feel confident going home, Howard said they are taking nothing for granted.
“It’s nice to be able to come in here and get the first one,’’ he said. “It was definitely fun. It was great. It was a hard-fought game between two teams. There’s nothing better than hearing the Dropkick Murphys in Boston. [But] this series is far from over. This is going to be a long type of series. They’re going to come back hard on Sunday.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.