You knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
It doesn’t matter that the Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy. That might as well be the James Polk Trophy.
It doesn’t matter that the Bruins lost only four times in regulation over the final 36 games of the regular season.
It doesn’t matter that Boston scored 84 more goals than its opponents, winning 54 games in a season that was mildly reminiscent of the 1970-71 campaign when the Bruins dominated hockey, then lost in the first round to a Montreal Canadiens team with a young goalie named Ken Dryden.
No. These Bruins don’t do it the easy way and the NHL — unlike other sports — makes it possible for you to play a tough team in the first round even after you dominate the field during the regular season.
So there you go. The Everything Is Awesome Bruins were beaten by the Detroit Red Wings, 1-0, in the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs Friday night. After 57 minutes of strangulation hockey, one of the best players in the world, Pavel Datsyuk, made an all-world play, beating Tuukka Rask for the only score of the night. Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at the Garden.
“It’s a long series and tonight is a good indication of that,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We have to get better at creating more scoring chances . . . We didn’t have the puck enough. I think we didn’t play the puck as much as we normally do.’’
None of this should come as any surprise. In each of the last three seasons, the Bruins went seven games in the first round, settling matters in overtime in the final game each year. The Red Wings are the best No. 8 seed since Kentucky got to the final game of the NCAA Tournament. Detroit has been in the playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons and the Wings are in the eight-spot only because they had a lot of players hurt and didn’t come together until the end of the season.
Too bad this isn’t like the NFL, where the Patriots are guaranteed a first-round tomato can every time they win the Powder Puff AFC East. Too bad this isn’t the NBA, where you never, ever have a first-round series featuring two teams capable of winning the championship.
No. This is the NHL, where the Stanley Cup champs (Chicago Blackhawks) have to play the Cup contenders from St. Louis in the first round. This is where the Bruins have to play a team fully confident and capable of beating Boston any night of the year.
Think Friday night’s game was an upset? The Wings have now beaten the Bruins four times in five tries this season. So much for your upset.
“It’s just very even,’’ said Boston captain Zdeno Chara. “That’s what we kind of expected . . . It’s going to be an even series.’’
“There wasn’t a lot of room out there tonight,’’ said Bruins center David Krejci.
It was the first Red Wings-Bruins playoff game since 1957, when Johnny Bucyk played for Detroit (look it up). It was also the first night of playoff hockey on Causeway Street since that awful ending in Game 6 last June when the Blackhawks scored twice in 17 seconds, then raised the Cup and sent the Bruins and their fans into the long, hot summer.
We did not see the fire on ice we expected from the locals in the first two periods. The Bruins were tentative and relatively listless, matching the eighth-seeded visitors but never playing like the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy (Millard Fillmore, perhaps?) and dominated the NHL after the midseason break.
Both teams had 16 shots and no goals in the first two periods. Baby-faced defenseman Dougie Hamilton had as many shots (three) as the Bruins’ vaunted first line. The Boston highlight of the first 40 minutes came when captain Zdeno Chara face-planted Brendan Smith into the glass late in the first period. Smith’s brother, Bruins winger Reilly Smith, no doubt was amused and old-timers noted that this was the Bruins’ first playoff matchup between brothers since Phil Esposito took shots at brother goalie Tony (Blackhawks) in 1975.
The Wings clearly are not intimidated by the Bruins. Detroit’s aging stars won’t be baited into stupid stuff. The younger Red Wings have the legs.
The Bruins came out with more jump in the third (“Our best period,’’ said Julien) and had their first-power play opportunity, but it was still scoreless with four minutes to play.
Boston’s best chance came when Jarome Iginla threw the puck toward the net and had it redirected by Milan Lucic with 3:30 left. Jimmy Howard made a nice save.
“It was a fortunate save,’’ said Howard. “It was pretty lucky. It just sort of spun on my glove and I was able to get enough on it.’’
Datsyuk’s goal less than a minute later put the Bruins behind in the game. And in the series.
There goes the home-ice advantage.
“I’ll take home-ice advantage all the time,’’ said Julien. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t win on the road.’’