Coming off a crushing loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Bruins were hosting the high-flying Detroit Red Wings. While Detroit hadn't been that hot of late, even with a rough couple weeks the Wings were sitting 2nd in the Flortheast behind only Tampa. The Bruins were down Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic, and the Wings were coming in looking to burn off some frustration. It looked for all the world like a set-up for a convincing Red Wings win.
Welp, notsofast. Missing their lead scorer and biggest physical presence among forwards, the Bruins revamped lines came out flying. Marchand-Krejci-Smith looked like...well...Marchand-Bergeron-Smith, Zdeno Chara looked as if he had finally found his game speed, and his pairing with Dougie Hamilton did solid work. At one point, this five-man-unit hemmed in the Red Wings so badly on back-to-back shifts that it was hard to believe that most of us came into tonight expecting a loss.
And indeed, that combination of players would get the Bruins on the board first. Following the puck down low, Hamilton won a board battle and, after some nice stickhandling, fed the puck back to Reilly Smith at the point. Smith let loose a howitzer of a slapper, one of his best as a Bruin, and the puck found its way past Brad Marchand's well-set screen in the back of the net behind Jimmy Howard.
The Red Wings haven't been a team that's folded that easily this year, as they came in with a winning record and 21 points in the 16 games where they'd surrendered the first goal. They would strike back on a bizarrely-good deflection by Justin Abdelkader off a Niklas Kronwall shot, tying the game at 1-all with a little under nine minutes left in the first.
The Bruins buzz wasn't killed though, and five minutes later, they'd pot two goals in a little over a minute. First, on the delayed penalty, Greg Campbell came onto the ice as the extra attacker. Campbell's point in the Jackets debacle was his first in an embarrassing amount of time. However, since Claude Julien was apparently a wizard behind the bench tonight, it was Campbell whose net crash knocked the puck in after some great work by Torey Krug to challenge Howard from a sharp angle. Carl Soderberg picked up the secondary, the first of his three points on the night.
The second point was picked up when he picked up a back-door rebound from a Loui Eriksson net drive, and smacked it into the open half of the net. Soderberg's line, more than the others, benefited from Mike Babcock's somewhat questionable attempts at line-matching, looking more like the dominant third unit of last season than the group which had struggled to produce against other team's top-sixes. At 17:25 of the first, it was 3-1 Bruins, and the B's had their first three-goal first period of the season.
Thomas Tatar, having a breakout season for the Wings, pretty seemed to have helped make it 3-2, as the Wings appeared to pull one back off a knucklepuck from the point a minute later. However, Tatar's stick came up above the crossbar as he, off-balance, attempted to set the screen, and the refs correctly ruled that the puck had deflected off the shaft. No goal. 3-1 after one.
While second periods haven't exactly been the Bruins nemeses in 2014-15, the second period that followed was the one of the three where the Red Wings could be said to have had the better of the play. Detroit came out strong, and got one back on the power play when Thomas Tatar sent a shot through the screen to beat Tuukka Rask. He did so with less than five minutes left in the second period, and the B's once again looked set-up for a far-too-exciting third period.
Refreshingly, it wasn't even remotely exciting. The Bruins outshot the Wings 15-6 in the final frame, and would add to their lead early on their only power play of the night. Seth Griffith, keeping the theme of slump-busting, was the one who iced the game. Working his way into the slot, he took a pass from David Krejci and roofed it by Jimmy Howard. It was Griffth's 6th goal of the year and, while it wasn't the highlight material that a couple of his earlier goals were, it was absolutely huge.
While a good amount of credit should go to Rask and the Bruins PK for limiting the hyper productive Detroit man-advantage to one goal on four tries (25% is actually about the season average for Detroit, but holding them to one PPG was exactly what the B's needed in this game), it should be said that the Bruins were actually the team that carried the play at evens for most of the game. The Bruins simply outplayed what has been a flat-out better team this season, and it was very encouraging.
The Red Wings would get one final man-advantage when Dougie Hamilton was called for interference on Pavel Datsyuk. The Bruins PK was once again up to the task. And with 3 minutes left, Mike Babcock chose to pull Jimmy Howard in an attempt to keep the pressure of the expired power play on Boston. As with many of Babcock's moves in this game, it backfired -- this one almost immediately. Strong work by Carl Soderberg to clear the zone led to Chris Kelly's ENG to ice it. The empty netter extended Kelly's point streak to seven games.
Overall, the B's performed exceptionally well in two areas they've been sorely lacking over the last couple losses: generating offense, and goaltending. Tuukka Rask rebounded from a rough relief outing to stop 28 of 30 shots, and the Bruins 45 SOG were, if I haven't missed something, a season-high for the Black and Gold.
Also of Note:
- Both of the Bruins bottom six lines looked surprisingly decent, though I personally thought the baby line of Craig Cunningham, Matt Lindblad, and Seth Griffith looked to be the more solid of the two. The kids held their own against Detroit's solid line-up.
- Jordan Caron wasn't awful! In fact, he looked somewhat jazzed to be here. In fact, he seemed to help Campbell and Paille out a bit. Weird.
- Back-to-back games with points for Campbell is the first time he's done that since October.
- Kevan Miller had an assist, which is two in the last three games. He has a grand total of 3 on the year, so consider him red-hot right now.
- Hard to overstate how much more game-ready Chara looked tonight, so I'm bullet-pointing this again.
- No one cares and this means zilch, but the Bruins have still yet to go pointless in a game I've covered from the Garden.
- Thomas Tatar's goal was his 15th of the year. I had no idea he was doing that well. He is
- Despite the goal, the Bruins actually did a good job in general of shutting down Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who didn't get many calls tonight. Again, this was definitely an instance of Claude out-coaching Detroit.
The Bruins will finish up 2014 with a home date on the 31st with the team right ahead of them in the standings -- the Toronto Maple Leafs, and who lost 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. While the Florida Panthers still have four games in hand (four!), and the Maple Leafs have one, the Bruins were able to rebound with a short roster and have at least generated some positive buzz going into the somewhat softer first week of January.