-- BOSTON -- Hours before puck drop of Game 1 between the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings, Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said it felt like Christmas Day because the Stanley Cup playoffs had finally arrived.
Well, the Red Wings played the role of the Grinch and ruined the night with a 1-0 victory over the Bruins on Friday at TD Garden. In an extremely tight defensive game, Pavel Datsyuk notched the lone goal with 3:01 remaining in the third period to give Detroit the early series lead.
The Bruins knew their first-round opponent was a strong adversary. The NHL-best Bruins learned first-hand this is not going to be an easy series.
The Red Wings know they'll return to Detroit with at least a split in the first two games in Boston.
"Obviously, you want to get in and you want to establish yourself in the series, especially when you're the lower seed," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "Sometimes the upper seed gets the upper hand right away, you start questioning whether you're good enough. We know we're good enough, but it's one thing to know you're good enough and one thing to show you're good enough. It was important for us to get started in the series so we can continue to get better as a group."
A win in Game 1 against the best regular-season team in the league seems to be a major confidence boost for the Red Wings. In the locker room after the game, the Bruins players were already looking ahead to Game 2.
"It's just one game," said Bruins forward David Krejci. "We have to obviously play a lot better. We have to look at video and make some adjustments. The next game is going to be important. It's a bit different if you go to Detroit 1-1 or 0-2. We have to do everything we can to win on Sunday."
Boston came inches away from scoring first on Friday. Late in the game, Jarome Iginla threw the puck on net as linemate Milan Lucic was busting through the slot and redirected the shot. Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard got just enough of his glove on it to keep it out of the net at 16:32 of the third period.
"It was a fortunate save, it was pretty lucky," Howard said. "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."
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask wasn't so lucky on the ensuing play.
In transition, Datsyuk received the pass and took a shot from the high slot that found its way in at 16:59 to give Detroit the lead, and the Red Wings held on for the win.
"Well, that's how it goes most of the time," Rask said. "One team has a chance and doesn't score and then the other team just capitalizes on the second chance. But what can you do? You just got to battle back and try to get the next one."
Entering this series, the one focus was Detroit's speed against Boston's size and strength. Game 1 was back and forth, but both teams maintained stifling defense.
"It was tight-checking game, but nonetheless I think everybody's got to find a way to create more and that's going to be the challenge in this series with two teams playing really tight, so it's about everybody working a little harder, gaining your space and doing what you have to do here," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "It's a long series, we predict, and if you look at tonight it's a good indication of that."
Since the Bruins couldn't create any sustained pressure, they tried to rely on the dump-and-chase game. They lost too many battles to the puck, and Detroit took control more times than not in its own zone.
"The one issue for tonight was we didn't have the puck enough," Julien said. "When we had it, we've got to start putting pucks in areas that we can get it back. We've got to get pucks in areas where once we get it we can hang onto it. Tonight, we didn't play with the puck as much as we normally do."
The Bruins were able to create better chances in the third period, but it simply wasn't good enough.
The Bruins are at their best when Julien has the ability to roll all four lines and stay with consistent defensive pairings. It didn't help that they began this series missing four important players. Forwards Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly and defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller were sidelined.
"Injuries are a part of the game and we kind of had to wait the whole day to find out who was in, and who was out," explained Julien. "We've had surprises all week long with the flu bug going around, so it was nice we were able to get 20 guys in the lineup. But at the same time, the guys that stepped in certainly did a good job."
The reinforcements did do their jobs given the situation, but the Bruins will need more of a normal lineup by the time Game 2 arrives on Sunday. Even after the game Julien said it was too early to know which of his injured/sick players will be ready to go.
"I wish I could tell you, honestly," he said. "With this thing going around, we really don't know. Matt Bartkowski was here today, so he's on the mend, but to what extent before Sunday hopefully he's good enough but we'll have to find out as days go on."
The Bruins completed the regular season as the Presidents' Trophy winners with the best record in the league. Their reward turned out to be perhaps the toughest opponent in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings proved in Game 1 they can match anything the Bruins have in their arsenal.
"We just have to figure out the offense," Krejci said. "They have a good team. They have fast, skilled forwards. We did a pretty good job of playing good defense against those guys, but on the other hand, we are a pretty good team as well. We couldn't put the puck in the net."