The Bruins know where they want to put the puck in Sunday’s Game 2. To tie the series at 1-1, they intend to deposit the puck in the patches of ice where they’re bigger, stronger, and more skilled than the Red Wings: in front of the net, below the dots, and along the boards.
“We’re definitely confident that we can be better, find ways to generate more, and have that puck more,” Jarome Iginla said after Saturday’s practice at TD Garden.
A task that sounds elementary can be elusive to execute.
The Wings won Game 1 Friday night, 1-0, partly because they won the puck-possession game, too. In the second period, Detroit whipped 21 pucks toward Tuukka Rask while limiting the Bruins to just nine attempts.
In all, the Wings finished with a 54-42 lead in attempted shots. The Bruins couldn’t put the puck where they wanted because they didn’t have it enough.
Jimmy Howard outdueled Rask. Niklas Kronwall wasn’t on the ice for any goals against. Zdeno Chara was. Pavel Datsyuk got the better of Patrice Bergeron.
But where the Wings really won the game was in center ice.
Detroit turned the neutral zone into a tar pit. The Bruins were dinosaurs. They couldn’t free their legs until the third period, when the No. 3 line of Justin Florek, Carl Soderberg, and Loui Eriksson generated the best scoring chances of the four units.
Eriksson and Soderberg were especially good down low. On the Bruins’ only power play, the No. 2 unit — Eriksson at the right half-boards, Soderberg at the goal line and in front — made Howard and his penalty killers sweat.
Soderberg and Eriksson were good for two reasons. First, they had the puck.
“We had a little better puck possession and we had the forecheck going,” Eriksson said. “We got it stuck in their end. We started skating a little bit more. I thought we had some good chances.”
Second, the third liners got the matchup they wanted.
The Wings were good at deploying their top two pairs (Kronwall and Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser) against the Bruins’ first two lines. The Wings smothered the No. 1 line. Iginla, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic combined for only four shots on goal.
But Detroit’s No. 3 pairing of Brian Lashoff and Jakub Kindl couldn’t always slow down Florek, Soderberg, and Eriksson. Entering the series, the Bruins believed they had the upper hand in depth. Not many third tandems could slow down Soderberg and his wingmen.
On Friday, when the third line controlled the puck, this proved to be true. Because the Bruins will have last change in Game 2, they can continue to work this matchup.
“Our third line had more scoring chances than our top two,” coach Claude Julien said. “We’ve got to find a way to get our top two lines to get more scoring chances. I’m sure they’re looking at the same situation from their end.”
But for the first two periods, all four of the Boston lines struggled to possess the puck. The Wings claimed it as their own. When they didn’t, Detroit fell into ranks in center ice and the defensive zone to impede the Bruins’ forecheck.
The Wings do just enough in the gray area — hold, hook, interfere — to slow down opponents and not get whistled. They’re coached well. They carry out their bosses’ commands. No referee will call this stuff in the playoffs.
“When it comes to our forecheck, they get there,” Julien said. “They like to have bodies in front of us, on the forecheckers, to kind of slow us down. We’ve got to find ways to get through that. There’s no question about that. I think that’s one of the reasons we weren’t as effective on our forecheck yesterday as we have in the past. We have to find ways to get through that. If they’re going to slow us down, if we’re skating, hopefully they’ll end up taking penalties.”
The Wings spent only 8.8 penalty minutes per game in the box during the regular season, the fourth-lowest mark in the league. Part of that was their peacenik approach. The Wings logged a league-low nine major penalties. They took 311 minor penalties, 19 more than the Bruins. But the Bruins went on the power play only 230 times, the fewest in the NHL. They will not get many calls unless they work the puck down low and force the Wings to chase.
“They do a good job of keeping the game very tight,” Iginla said. “The forecheck is a big part of our team and the success we have. We have a few adjustments we want to make and things we want to do better. Just a little more battling through it and getting there.”
On Saturday, the Bruins spent much of their time practicing their neutral-zone execution. They went D-to-D and snapped crisp passes to the strong-side wing posting up at the red line. On another drill, they slid diagonal passes through the neutral zone to the weak-side winger. Once the forwards got the puck, they took off.
The Bruins did some good things in Game 1. Rask had to make just one 10-bell save — a right-pad kickout on Darren Helm. The only shot that beat the goalie was one he didn’t see spring off Datsyuk’s stick. The Bruins blocked shots. Fill-ins such as Florek, Jordan Caron, Andrej Meszaros, and Corey Potter played their roles well. They helped to turn Daniel Alfredsson (zero shots, no presence in 12:14 of ice time) into a ghost.
The Bruins will be in better shape in Game 2 if they air out the neutral zone. This is the area, however, where the Wings excel at making life asthmatic.