Saturday, April 19, 2014

Red Wings' ride Howard, Datsyuk to sink Boston Bruins

Datsyuk's spectacular goal leaves a trail of Boston defenders sprawled on the ice
It was clear from the very beginning that the Detroit Red Wings game plan was to put as many shots on Boston Bruins' goaltender Tuukka Rask as they could - which isn't exactly a surprise, except that they didn't seem to have a game plan other than that...

...shot after shot after shot, if they didn't have a shooting lane - well - that was ok, because sooner or later one was bound to get through.

Rask eschewed the blindfold and cigarette, however, and stopped everything - everything except Pavel Datsyuk's snap shot from the high slot that beat him high on the glove side with just over three minutes remaining in regulation as the Red Wings took game one of their best of seven series by a score of 1-0 on Friday night at TD Garden in downtown Boston.

Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard traded spectacular saves with Rask, stopping all 25 shots that he faced, including several point-blank chances, the best chance the Bruins had at getting one past him coming just before Datsyuk's game winner, when Milan Lucic managed to squeeze one through Howard's pads, but the puck fluttered just wide of the goal mouth...

...a play that started the game winning sequence - the Bruins' getting a change once the Red Wings cleared the zone, but moving the puck back into the attacking zone too quickly for the Patrice Bergeron line to set up a triangle to properly attack the net.

"It was a fortunate save. It was pretty lucky," Howard said of Lucic's near-miss. "I forget who it was that lobbed it in, but he stuck his stick out and got a lot on it, and it just sort of spun my glove, and I was just able to get enough on it. I was pretty lucky."

Rask wasn't so lucky - and it takes plenty of good fortune to keep Datsyuk off the scoreboard.

With just over three minutes to play, Red Wings' forward Johan Franzen picked a loose puck off between Bergeron and winger Brad Marchand and started up the bench-side dashers, drawing all three of the second line Bruins' forwards toward him in an attempt to trap him along the boards, but he managed to trickle the puck into the neutral zone...

...Datsyuk reaching behind him and gathering in the puck without breaking stride and leaving the Bruins' forwards lunging at air - weaving into the attacking zone and crossing behind linemate Justin Abdelkader just as the winger collided with defenseman Dougie Hamilton, effectively removing him from the play and shielding Datsyuk from Rask's vantage point.

"The puck was probably 4 or 5 feet behind him and he was able to pick it up, do things that no one else can do." marvelled Red Wings' defenseman Niklas Kronwall. "We've seen it before, and he did it again. Abdelkader did a great job pushing their far defenseman down, which created some more room - and when he shot the puck, Rask didn't see it much."

Actually, Rask never saw the puck at all - nor did Hamilton, nor did fellow blue-liner Zdeno Chara as the collision toppled both, with Hamilton landing on top of Abdelkader and riding him into the crease like a kid on a snow saucer while the puck danced in the twine.

"He was by himself there, and so I'm just thinking a shot, and he drags it across and releases from his legs," Rask said of Datsyuk. "You just try to get the puck in your eyes, and I couldn't. Usually he tries to make a pass, but I thought he was by himself there."

In a game as tight and evenly matched as this series is going to offer, one defensive breakdown can make all the difference for the opposition - and in the playoffs, the opposition is going have players experienced in taking advantage of such a small window of opportunity.

There's not many better at it than Pavel Datsyuk - and sometimes all it takes is one.

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