Matt Beleskey is familiar with Detroit’s tradition of chucking an octopus onto the ice. During the 2012-13 playoffs, when Beleskey and the Ducks faced off against the Red Wings in the first round, he saw it in person.
So when an octopus flew onto the TD Garden ice in Thursday’s third period, Beleskey repeated what he did three years ago. He smashed it with his stick.
It was a Black-and-Gold response on a night when the Bruins played with a swagger that has been absent in the last two weeks. The Bruins raised their level to lay a 5-2 licking on the Wings to vault over the Flyers into the final wild-card position.
The Bruins have 93 points, the same as Detroit and one more than Philadelphia. Three scenarios remain for the Bruins. They could grab third place in the Atlantic Division if they get one point against Ottawa in Saturday’s regular-season finale and Detroit gets none against the Rangers. They could finish in eighth place if they remain one point ahead of the Flyers, who host Pittsburgh on Saturday and play at the Islanders on Sunday. Or the Bruins could go golfing early pending a combination of scenarios.
The latter is not something they intend to let happen.
“That’s what it takes sometimes,” Zdeno Chara said of waiting until Game No. 82 to extend the season or see it stop short. “That’s why you have 82 games so you can still have a chance at it. That’s how we’re looking at it. We always say that Game No. 82 is as important as Game No. 1.”
Had the Wings won in regulation or overtime on Thurdsay, they would have clinched third place in the division and a first-round meeting against Tampa Bay. But the Bruins never let them get a sniff of getting into the game.
Just 1:25 into the night, David Pastrnak tucked a backhander behind Jimmy Howard to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. After Detroit coach Jeff Blashill used his challenge, video replay confirmed Pastrnak stayed onside before scoring the goal.
At 2:44, the Bruins doubled their lead. Henrik Zetterberg blocked Torey Krug’s point shot. But Krug found the rebound and spotted Brad Marchand open at the right circle. Marchand received Krug’s cross-ice pass and snapped a shot past Howard. The caffeinated start was all the Bruins needed.
“That made a huge difference,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’d talked about getting off to a real good start. [That’s] a team that had played last night, so we wanted to come out strong and we did. Not only that, we managed to get some quick goals. That made a big difference. With what we’ve been going through, it gave our guys some real good confidence there and loosened them up a little bit. We just took off from there. No doubt that was certainly one of the keys to the game.”
The Bruins didn’t let up. At 5:02 of the second, Krug hammered home a power-play strike. It was his first goal since Dec. 5. Alexey Marchenko responded at 6:59. But the Bruins punched back with two goals in a 25-second stretch in the third off the sticks of Lee Stempniak and Loui Eriksson.
“Foot on the gas,” Stempniak said. “We were up, 3-1. You can sit back, but a two-goal lead is difficult. They can come back, score on the power play, and get right back in it. For us, it was trying to have good habits and continue the good things we’d done all game.”
The thing the Bruins did better than anything was defend. The Wings were up against it after playing an 8 p.m. game at home on Wednesday, then arriving in Boston early Thursday morning. But they still have players who can skate like nobody’s business, even if their legs were still limp from the previous night’s workload.
The Bruins made sure the Wings never got to their rush game. The Bruins executed their heavy lifting in center ice, where they took away lanes, fended off parries, and threw a tarp over the fast-moving Wings. Tuukka Rask (13 saves) could have spent most of his night doing a crossword puzzle.
“Our gaps were awesome,” Krug said. “As a defensive group, they didn’t really have much room to skate out there or come through the neutral zone with speed. The only reason we were able to do that was because our forwards backchecked like crazy tonight. It was just a committed defensive effort. It starts with Tuuks and moves its way out. Everyone was committed.”
Detroit’s best chance was at 12:04 of the first. Krug coughed up the puck to Jonathan Ericsson in the slot. But Rask snatched Ericsson’s shot to keep the Bruins up, 2-0.
The Bruins still need help to qualify for the playoffs. But they have at least put themselves in a position to make it because of how they’ve defended the last two games after sieve-like execution against St. Louis and Chicago.
Under Julien, hockey is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of layers. The Bruins are still alive.