In this case, the numbers don't lie. The vast majority of teams win games in which they have a lead after a single period, but the Boston Bruins are particularly impressive, regularly winning four out of five games in which they come away with an early lead. Two seasons ago, the Bears peaked at a 92.0 winning percentage when leading after the opening frame, posting a ludicrous 23-2-0 record in those situations.
The Bruins and Detroit Red Wings played two more periods on Sunday after those first 20 minutes, but all Boston really needed was that opening frame, a frame in which they completely dominated Detroit and carved out a 2-0 lead. The final score was 4-1, but the Bruins won the game in that initial period.
After the game, Boston coach Claude Julien said that this series was going to come down to the will of each team:
Claude Julien agrees with the assessment that this series is about the will of each team. Today a good example of Bruins will.— Zuri Berry (@zuriberry) April 20, 2014
While Julien must have been pleased with what he saw, especially early, Detroit's Mike Babcock was blunt in his postgame assessment.
"I thought we were ineffective, period," he told reporters. "They were engaged. They won the battles. They were quick. We were slow."
Boston fired 18 shots at Jimmy Howard in the first, but given that the Bruins allowed 10 shots the other way, there might be a tendency to think that the team was playing a high-risk back-and-forth game. In reality, the Boston defence was actually near-perfect, with the Red Wings getting only a single shot on Tuukka Rask from a dangerous area—and even that shot comes with a significant caveat.
That shot from a dangerous area actually developed off an initial shot from a bad angle, courtesy of Riley Sheahan:
Rask was able to avoid coughing out a big rebound, but he couldn't completely smother the puck, which allowed Gustav Nyquist to get a second try at it:
That was Detroit's most dangerous shot of the 10 it managed in the first period—a tiny rebound that Nyquist would have needed to bury with the goalie almost on top of it already and Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuk breathing down his neck.
With Boston's defence forming a nearly impenetrable wall in front of Rask, the Red Wings needed to find a way to limit the number of chances on Howard. They failed to do so.
The chain of errors on Boston's first goal, a career first for 23-year-old rookie Justin Florek, provides a good example:
When we look at that sequence, we see a number of problems:
- Tomas Tatar tried and failed to get the puck deep in his attack on the offensive zone, allowing Boston to get started the other way.
- When a bad pass by the Bruins gave Sheahan a chance at possession, he made a no-look backhand pass that sailed past Brendan Smith and then he headed to the bench.
- Smith, apparently unaware of Florek behind him, went to the side of the ice, content to allow goaltender Jimmy Howard to play it.
- Rather than pass to an open Niklas Kronwall (though admittedly, we have to cut some slack to any goalie forced to puckhandle under pressure) or simply cover the puck, Howard whipped the puck to Smith quickly, so quickly that Smith couldn't handle it.
Some goals come off big individual mistakes, but most of the time there is a chain of smaller errors that add up to a goal against. Tatar or Sheahan could have stopped things before they started, Smith could have chased the puck rather than deferring to Howard and Howard himself could have made a different play.
Poor discipline by the Red Wings was another problem; Detroit sent Boston to the power play three times in the opening frame, which included a five-on-three opportunity. The Bruins' power play was effective all game and Reilly Smith was eventually able to capitalize:
At that point, just over 10 minutes in, the Red Wings had a massive hill to climb, and they wouldn't make any kind of start on climbing it until the second period. For the game's final 40 minutes, Detroit was much more effective (three power plays didn't hurt), but it was only able to beat Rask once.
This is becoming something of a problem for Detroit. The Red Wings come away from Boston with a 1-1 split, which is a pretty good place to be; it makes the series a best-of-five in which they have home-ice advantage. The bloggers at Winging it in Motown also saw it that way in their postgame recap:
In the big scheme of things, today's loss is by no means devastating. The Wings did what they wanted to do in Boston, which was to split the series. The momentum may have turned in Boston's favor, but the Wings now have two games at home. Two much needed games at home.
But Detroit has a grand total of two goals in two games, and when it mattered most, Boston's defence held off the Red Wings' attack easier than Zdeno Chara held off Brendan Smith:
The Red Wings are a good defensive team, but they aren't going to win this series scoring a lone goal every night. Somehow, head coach Mike Babcock needs to find a way to get his forwards past Boston's imposing defence—something that may come easier as the series switches to Detroit and Babcock gets more control over the line matchups.
Boston showed up early in this one and put on such a dominant performance that it was able to tip the scales dramatically in its favour less than one-quarter of the way through the game. Given Boston's strong group of defencemen, its goaltender and near-total commitment by the forwards to defence, that's a winning recipe. It won't be as easy to do on the road, but if the Bruins can find the same offensive start that they did in Game 2, they won't have to worry even a little bit about dropping the first contest in this series.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com.