Depth, Physicality Make Up The Boston Bruins' Winning Formula Against Detroit

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Depth, Physicality Make Up The Boston Bruins' Winning Formula Against Detroit
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Carl Soderberg was the unsung difference-maker in the Boston Bruins4-1 victory in Game 2 of their series with the Detroit Red Wings. His contributions to the decisive combination of offensive depth and special teams were equally subtle and crucial.

He was not one of the six Boston forwards or eight skaters to etch a point Sunday afternoon. Although, his lone credited shot on goal was a good look from the high slot. Jimmy Howard snared his 34-foot wrister for a stoppage with four minutes and 31 seconds left in the first period.

Soderberg’s stat line did yield a plus-one rating, courtesy of linemate Justin Florek’s icebreaker at 7:28 of the opening frame. The versatile Swede also won six of his nine draws and posted a takeaway and a blocked shot.

That individual transcript did not feature any of the 33 hits the Bruins inflicted. But it also does not properly reveal the bumps the player took for the team as the contest took shape.

Before the halfway mark of the first period, Soderberg drew back-to-back power plays for Boston. In fact, he coaxed the Red Wings into two overlapping shorthanded segments when momentum was fresh for the host club.

Soderberg skated most of the game on the third line with Florek and Loui Eriksson. But after Florek’s unassisted strike, he briefly double-shifted with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

One stoppage and 47 seconds after the Bruins raised the upper hand, a referee raised his arm. Soderberg had landed Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl in the sin bin for interference.

Another 99 seconds elapsed before Soderberg brooked a slash via Danny DeKeyser. Detroit’s two sentences overlapped by 19 seconds and amounted to two minutes and 20 seconds of continuous special-teams action.

That stretch might have run longer, but Reilly Smith buried Boston’s eighth power-play bid at 10:35.

By day’s end, the Bruins had cultivated half of their offense with the help of the man advantage. The man-up brigade went 2-for-4 with 10 shots on goal, while the penalty kill warded off each of Detroit’s four five-on-four onslaughts.

One of those two power-play conversions came via defenseman Zdeno Chara. The other three goals, power play or even strength, came from a member of three different forward lines.

As quoted by ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald, one of those goal-getters, Milan Lucic, subsequently said the following:

Getting that first one was huge, especially after not being able to get one past (Howard) last game. Sometimes all it takes is a lucky bounce like that to kind of turn the tide and get some confidence and momentum in the goal-scoring department. It was a great job by (Florek) pouncing on the puck and getting that first goal.

Lucic’s postgame words line up with Soderberg’s in-game accomplishments. When a team garners a favorable entry on the scoresheet—in the goal or penalty column—there is no substitute for another to foster momentum.

The Bruins did that after Florek’s tally by sandwiching a second one around the two man advantages, both courtesy of Soderberg. The quantity and variety of punctuation emboldened the recipe of their winning formula in a now deadlocked best-of-seven bout.

By the time they augmented their lead to 2-0, the Bruins had already enjoyed three power plays versus one man advantage for the Red Wings. In addition to the eventual balance of four man-up episodes for each party, there were later three sets of coincidental roughing minors.

All of those sets came late in the first, in the icy dust of Boston’s goal-laden power-play opportunities. Those occurrences made for the type of tone-setter that was missing on the top seed’s part in Friday’s 1-0 Game 1 loss

After the Bruins finished tying the series, the most telling quote from the Wings’ end may have come from head coach Mike Babcock. As quoted by NHL.com correspondent Matt Kalman, the visiting bench boss said, “I just think you’ve got to decide what you want to do. Do you want to play like them or play like us?”

Boston could pose itself the same question. Generally, the ideal answer for each squad is the same, despite polar connotations.

If Sunday’s first period is any indication, though, there is one ingredient from the Red Wings’ recipe the Bruins can pilfer. Impelling such infractions as DeKeyser’s slash and Tomas Tatar’s hooking minor at 3:21 of the opening stanza can help them pave a favorable road.

Sunday’s performance posed a reminder that the Bruins placed third on the NHL’s power-play leaderboard with a 21.7 percent conversion rate. They are not going to convert half of their chances every night, but they do not need to. 

Instant gratification or not, Boston’s power play can still drain the opposition. As evidenced by Howard’s rough outing, that is the best, if not only, way to wear down the netminder along with the skaters.

Again, the Bruins peppered the Detroit backstop with seven stabs in two minutes and 15 seconds before Smith stuffed home their first conversion. That tally, along with Florek’s, bookended two goals on 10 registered shots in a span of 3:07.

Distribution of skaters aside, they will need to tax Howard the same way in as many stretches as they can. They can do that by flexing the four-line dependability that buoyed the better part of their run to the regular-season title.

With a lack of finish on both sides, Game 1 amounted to a staring contest between Howard and Tuukka Rask. Boston’s worst-case scenario came to fruition when Rask blinked on Pavel Datsyuk’s test late in the third.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Bruins did not garner a power play until drawing their only advantage early in the closing frame.

The way to preempt a rerun of that tightrope trek is by flustering and fatiguing all active Wings. Hits like the one blueliner Johnny Boychuk thrust at Justin Abdelkader on Sunday’s first shift of the third comprise only half of that tactic.

Picking up the puck and making room to run productive plays with it after those hits is the other half. That goes for every unit in every situation.

As vital as it is for Rask’s skating mates to minimize Detroit’s pestering, he needs support on the scoreboard. And for all that is understandably said of Detroit’s collective speed, the Bruins are sufficiently capable of winning races and percolating a variety of chances for themselves.

There is also an experiential discrepancy that they must make a point of exploiting. Three of Detroit’s depth forwards—Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan—are in their first Stanley Cup tournament.

Conversely, save for Florek, all of Boston’s bottom-six strikers have been here before.

Add the fact that they are waiting for two of those veterans, Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille, to return. A Monday report from NESN.com’s Nicholas Goss noted that Paille participated in an optional skate and quoted head coach Claude Julien as terming that development “a step in the right direction.”

If and when Paille resumes game action, the fabled “Merlot Line” will have its full troika back in service. Rejoined with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton’s seasoned sandpaper, his underrated skating prowess would give a can’t-hurt boost to the bottom of the line chart.

Paille or not, though, everyone needs to continue to supplement the top strikers. The Bruins need a 60-minute charge that more closely resembles Sunday’s first 20 minutes. They need to create and exploit space to make the most of a gap down the contesting depth scrolls.

After all, Soderberg can still be statistically rewarded if he continues to hustle and engage like he did in Game 2.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com

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