No Game 7 date with anxiety and nail-biting this time. The Bruins’ presence isn’t even required for a Game 6 back in Detroit. Habitually a bunch of puck procrastinators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins got their homework done early this time, dispatching the Detroit Red Wings on the first try in Saturday’s fifth game.
The Big, Good Bruins wrapped up their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series with the allegedly dangerous Red Wings with a 4-2 victory at TD Garden, winning four straight games to make Joe Louis Arena just another desolate and empty building among the many in Detroit. You can’t blame the Spoked-Believers for rubbing their eyes in disbelief at the Bruins closing out an opponent on the first try in the first round.
The Bruins have reached the Stanley Cup Final in two of the previous three seasons. But this year’s team looks like the Claude Julien Bruins 2.0, replete with previously lacking elements. The Bruins are armed with not one, but two puck-moving defensemen (Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug), a potent power play, reliable third-line scoring, and a first-round killer instinct. It’s like the Bruins downloaded new software for an already powerful piece of hardware.
The Worker Bs had gone to a Game 7 in the first round in each of the past three postseasons. Last season, they were in a remarkably similar situation against Toronto. Just like this season, they had scored an emotional overtime victory on enemy ice to take a 3-1 series lead coming home. We all remember what happened. The Bruins ended up in a Game 7 at home and needed a miraculous comeback in the final 83 seconds to force overtime, where they completed their escape.
The Bruins were determined to avoid such drama this time, playing Game 5 like it was a Game 7.
“It’s huge,” said center Patrice Bergeron. “They’re a team that has got a lot character, so we knew that we had to really step on them today, and really have a huge effort. That was the talk, about making sure that we were not going back over there, and putting everything on the line this afternoon.”
The Bruins never trailed in Game 5. The Red Wings tied the game at 14:41 of the second period, but you always felt like the Bruins were in control.
If ice is oxygen in hockey, the Bruins asphyxiated the Red Wings, stifling their shots, their speed, and their creativity. The high-revving Red Wings scored just six goals in five games.
This being the Bruins, they had to make their fans sweat just a little. That was the case after Henrik Zetterberg converted a sharp-angle shot to cut the Bruins’ lead to 3-2, but Jarome Iginla iced the game and the series with an empty-net goal with 15.2 seconds left.
You could tell how badly the Bruins wanted this game when the usually stolid Zdeno Chara wore his emotions on his sweater after the key play of the contest, late in the second period.
With the teams tied, 1-1, and trading penalties, Detroit was on the man advantage after a dubious Loui Eriksson goalie interference call had truncated a Boston power play. But Detroit’s Johan Franzen (holding at 19:23) and Brendan Smith (cross-checking at 19:45) were penalized 22 seconds part.
Chara restored the Bruins’ lead with a 4-on-3 goal with just 3.8 seconds left in the period. Big Z took a pass from Bergeron and unleashed a megaton slap shot from outside the right circle. Chara let out a roar after the goal and turned to the Bruins’ bench in exultation and exhortation.
“Bergy just showed how quickly he can see the opening and made a really great pass to me,” said Chara. “Yeah, I was emotional. It was a big game, big goal, and so I’m not afraid to show it.”
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with a feckless power play. Fans used to joke that the Bruins would be better off just forfeiting the man advantage because they were such an adept 5-on-5 team. If the Bruins lift Lord Stanley’s silverware this time, it will be with a power play that is tough on opponents, not tough to watch.
The Bruins, who had the third-best power play in the NHL during the regular season, finished the series 6 for 16 on the power play. They allowed Detroit to convert just 2 of 20 man-advantage opportunities.
Boston opened the scoring with a power-play tally at 3:27 of the first.
Like in Game 3, Dougie Hamilton cruised into the Detroit zone on a one-man rush. Hamilton sent a centering pass that deflected off Brian Lashoff and Darren Helm, ricochetting to a wide-open Eriksson, who tucked a backhander past Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
“Our power play has been good for us all year,” said winger Milan Lucic, who provided a goal and an assist. “So, it’s nice that it’s a weapon instead of something that is taking momentum away.”
Lucic is a microcosm of the Black and Gold. Sometimes it takes him a while to get going, but once he does, he steamrolls everything in his path.
Lucic had the Bruins poised to deep-six their Original Six brethren at 4:27 of the third, giving Boston a 3-1 lead. After a brilliant Gustavsson stop on Carl Soderberg, Franzen committed a ghastly giveaway. Krug fed Looch, and he muscled the puck past Gustavsson from the doorstep.
Now, the Bruins move on to face their eternal enemy, the Montreal Canadiens, another reprisal of one of North American sports’ greatest grudge matches.
The Bleu, Blanc, et Ruse, err, Rouge are well-rested having swept the Tampa Bay Lightning. They’ve practiced their diving, no doubt.
Montreal is an old rival, but this is a Bruins team with a new playoff look.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.