The 2015-16 season for the Boston Bruins has been such a crazy, up-and-down season that it's been really hard tell which version of the Bruins you're getting on any given night. So when, in the midst of an all-too-familiar late March slump, April 7th was marked on the calendar as a potential season-swinging match-up, it was impossible not to fear the worst. Even with the Detroit Red Wings on the second half of a road back-to-back. Even when Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill named Jimmy Howard the starter for the second night in a row over a rested Petr Mrazek.
The Bruins took less than three minutes into the game to crush all doubt. This was one of their good nights. In fact, this might have been one of this squad's best games all year.
David Pastrnak took a pass from John-Michael Liles and streaked past a couple of Red Wings near the right boards before sliding a backhand by Howard, just 1:25 into the game. 1:19 later, Brad Marchand found himself wide open at the right circle, and blasted a Torey Krug pass into the open half of the net. It was 2-0. Marchand was so excited by his 37th goal that he briefly lost his balance, TD Garden was rocking, and Detroit was reeling. They never did truly get into this game, looking like a team that was one part stunned and two parts tired for most of the night. Detroit's one good chance to possibly sink their teeth into this game was snuffed out when Tuukka Rask made a stellar glove save on a shorthanded bid from the slot.
The Colin Miller - Liles pairing worked just as you'd hope it would, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid's pairing helped cave in Detroit's lower lines, and Boston won the possession battle by a landslide despite Detroit chasing the game from so early on; the Bruins outshot Detroit 34-15, and the feel of dominance matched the numbers.
Anyhow, the Bruins deservedly led 2-0 at the break. The refs called this one pretty tightly, and holding the lead included killing two McQuaid penalties. Happily, the Bruins PK, led by Rask (who actually didn't have a particularly good game overall, given that Detroit only managed 15 SOG and scored twice), was on point the whole night. The PK offset a Matt Beleskey crosscheck near the beginning of the second, and then the other special teams unit came through.
After Jonathan Ericsson went to the box for holding former-Wing Landon Ferraro ("I miss you, man"), Torey Krug, who, to be charitable, has been snakebit this year in terms of goals (by my count he'd had one goal taken away by a bad referee-overturn and one that was taken away about a month ago when the puck hit Loui Eriksson's rear end before going in), finally got off the schneid. After a nifty space-opening pass sequence from Eriksson and David Krejci on the right side, Krug took a cross-ice pass from Eriksson, stepped in, and sent a blast off the left post and in. His celebration, in contrast to the raw excitement of David Pastrnak's and Brad Marchand's, felt like an expression of pure relief, as he threw his arms over his head near the boards and waited for the inevitable Hockey Hugs. 3-0. 4th of the year for Krug, who would also tally his 39th and 40th assists as part of a 3-point game.
Two minutes later, Detroit would make their only dent of the night while the game was still reasonably within reach, when first an angled shot from Henrik Zetterberg was blocked by Krug. While Krug and the Bruins were trying to figure out where the deflection had gone, Alexey Marchenko snuck in from the right point and fired a pass into the slot. WMcQuaid didn't have that bad of a game overall, but here he had the misfortune of having the puck deflect off his leg and past Rask. Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist picked up the assists.
The score stayed at 3-1 through the 40-minute mark. While the Bruins have usually needed longer than 20 minutes to waste two-goal advantages this year, the must-win nature of this game still had the Garden on edge. Elsewhere, the Toronto Maple Leafs were holding a 3-1 edge on the Philadelphia Flyers--who, if you've been stuck under a rock for a week or so, are also in contention for one of the playoff spots that the Bruins have a shot at--and so the opportunity was there for the B's to gain on them, as well.
Maybe someone told the Bruins, because they began the third period the same way they started the first -- Boston once again came out absolutely flying, and it took only twenty second into the final frame for them to be rewarded. First, McQuaid made a new play to keep the puck and send it back down low, where Brad Marchand picked up the puck and sent a pass toward Lee Stempniak. The puck had eyes, eluding Stempniak, but Krug intercepted the tricky object before it reached the blue line.
Krug sent a wrist shot in on Howard, whose pad stop rebounded out to the crashing Stempniak. Lee didn't miss, and it was 4-1. Since I've mentioned everyone else's celebration, let's say that Stempniak reacted to his goal about the same way that I react when I realize that it's actually Saturday morning when I think it's Sunday morning. Sorry. All of 25 seconds later, Ryan Spooner entered the zone and fired a shot towards the Detroit net that was deflected by first David Krejci and then Loui Eriksson. Jimmy Howard didn't have a prayer, and it was 5-1. Initially scored as Krejci's goal, the scoring change to give the tally to Eriksson was Loui's 30th of the year. Not bad for an "overpaid third-liner," if you think about it (wink wink wink).
That was it for Howard and, really, that was it for Detroit. Petr Mrazek came in to finish the game, and was generally fine. It should be said, though, that the Bruins win left very little doubt that the goalie decision on the part of Detroit was academic. Even if bad reasoning was afoot--Howard's career stats against Boston were cited pre-game, and they did him very little good here--the Bruins took it to the Red Wings all night, and even Mrazek's healthy seasonal .920 wouldn't have been enough to stem the tide.
Andreas Anthanisou would send Rask home as the only angry Bruin by scoring the second Detroit goal with 1:23 remaining, but Boston easily held on for the 5-2 win. The two points drew them even with Detroit, who still holds a 39-38 ROW tiebreak over Boston, and put them two points up on the Flyers. Shortly after the game in Boston ended, however, Wayne Simmonds tied the game for Philly in the final minute. A Jake Gardiner PPG in OT would give the Leafs the win, but making it to OT gave the Flyers their 92nd point and the inside track for the 8th seed in the East.
The Bruins came up big in a game they absolutely needed to have, and now need to hope that either Detroit or Philadelphia falters. With the tiebreak going for Boston, anything other than two wins for the Flyers would open the door for the Bruins--if they can beat the Ottawa Senators on Saturday--to pass Philly. A Bruins win and a Detroit loss to the New York Rangers would give Boston the 3rd spot in the Atlantic.
Regardless of how this will play will out, the Bruins can at least say that, last night, they blasted Detroit off the ice, and they have to feeling feeling good about their chances vs. Ottawa on Saturday. They'll almost certainly need the two points.
See you at 12:30 PM. Wear your lucky hats, and tell your families that your day-drinking is mandatory. If I don't survive, tell my friends "hello."