Thursday, April 24, 2014

Iginla pots game winner in OT; Boston Bruins take 3-1 series lead over 'Wings

The Boston Bruins aren't that difficult to figure out.

They are physical.  They are resilient.  They come straight ahead and hammer you for no other reason than to eventually take away your will - and if your best shot isn't enough to put them away, well, Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena happens.

It was about midway through the second period when the Bruins started to take control of their Game 4 matchup with the Detroit Red Wings in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals series - having already yielded goals to defenseman Niklas Kronwall and centerman Pavel Datsyuk, when the Red Wings started to look spent...

...their high energy, frenetic pace giving way to Boston's heavy-footed, even-keeled puck control game - the pucks that they were having trouble getting to along the boards early in the game starting to find the range, the middle of the ice that Detroit's speed game offered them now closed off, and the backcheck of the Bruins turning into forced turnovers and transition offense.

No, the Boston Bruins are not that hard to figure out.  Trying to stop them is the tough part.

Down 2-0 through half of the match, defenseman Torey Krug ripped a slap shot from the high slot to get the Bruins on the board, Milan Lucic tied the game early in the third and Jarome Iginla ended it 13:32 into overtime, answering the Red Wings' best shot in typical Bruins' fashion, taking both a 3-2 win in Detroit on Thursday night, and a 3-1 series lead headed back to Boston.

The Red Wings gave it everything they had through 60 minutes, going all-in for a game they knew they absolutely had to have, having lost two straight and in danger of being down 3-1, even pulling team captain Henrik Zetterberg down from the press box to provide more offensive fire power and perpetual healthy-scratch Todd Bertuzzi to be a physical presence.

But Zetterberg was clearly less than 100% returning from back surgery and Bertuzzi, while initially making a big-time screen in front of Boston Goalie Tuukka Rask, was eventually neutralized by the physicality of the Bruins, who made sure to punish the 39-year-old Bertuzzi every time he tried to front Rask in the low slot.

Halfway through the opening period and the Bruins down a man after Justin Florek took a high-sticking double minor, the Red Wings scored the game's first goal just four seconds into the power play, Kronwell driving the puck past Rask from above the right circle directly from a Datsyuk faceoff win, Bertuzzi preventing Rask from seeing the puck until it was already past him...

...Kronwell returning the favor just over four minutes into the second period, picking up a puck that Rask had directed behind the net off of a Justin Abdelkader offering, sliding a pass to Datsyuk who had drifted into the low slot and easily beat Rask into the net that he vacated to stone Abdelkader.

With eight minutes gone and Bruins' defenseman Kevan Miller in the poke for retaliating against an Abdelkader hold just 13 seconds earlier, Bertuzzi joined him for interference on Zdeno Chara, the team skated four-on-four until Miller's penalty expired, Krug crushed his shot from the high slot in the waning seconds of the brief Bruins' power play.

That was the beginning of the end for the Red Wings.

Krug's goal had a horrific effect on the crowd and, subsequently, the Red Wings themselves as the Bruins slowly began tilting the ice in their favor - but missing several point-blank chances at Detroit's backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson throughout the rest of the period, though Gustavsson's luck ran out just over a minute into the third...

...Bruins' centerman Carl Soderberg taking a perfect Dougie Hamilton stretch pass and racing down the right wing, escorted wide of the net by Red Wings' defenseman Brian Lashoff - but just before the big Swede passed behind the net he slipped the puck to Lucic, who was point-blank on Gustavsson's glove side, and he jammed it through the five hole for the equalizer.

Shift by shift, the Bruins slowly took control of the pace of the game, spending more and more time in the attacking zone, Marchand missing an opportunity to pot the game winner into a wide open net late in the period - and by the time the game reached overtime, the Red Wings were completely on the defensive, and it was just a matter of time before the Bruins found dirty ice.

That happened with six and a half minutes left in sudden-death, Dougie Hamilton ripping a shot from the penalty box side dashers and Jarome Iginla redirecting it from the right circle, sending it in on Gustavsson, who could do nothing about the puck deflecting off of defenseman Danny DeKeyser's skate for the game winner.

Joe Louis Arena cleared out quickly after Iginla ended the game, perhaps too disappointed to realize that there probably will not be another game in Detroit this season, their Red Wings being down three games to one and headed to Boston for Saturday afternoon's elimination game at TD Garden - but at least they can be consoled in that coach Mike Babcock had the right idea...

...his game plan perfect through half of regulation.  But how hard is it to prepare a game plan for the Bruins?  Babcock knew what was coming and prepared his team the best he could - and it wasn't enough.

No shame in that, though, because these Bruins are so fundamentally sound, so well conditioned and so well coached that it almost seems unfair.  Almost.

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