LARRY LAGE, AP Hockey Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The Boston Bruins have held the Detroit Red Wings to historically poor offensive production.
With two goals through three games, the Red Wings are off to their worst three-game start in any playoff series since getting shut out in the first three games of the 1945 Stanley Cup finals.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, backchecking forwards and shot-blocking defensemen have had a lot to do with that.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, though, suggested his team has made it easier on Rask by failing to get players close to him to perhaps redirect pucks past him.
“He’s a world-class goalie, skates great,” Babcock said. “Looks great in warmups — that’s where he’s getting his most shots.”
The Bruins have turned defense into offense to win the last two games by a combined score of 7-1. The dominating performances have lifted the defending Eastern Conference champions to a 2-1 lead in the opening-round series.
Detroit has to win Game 4 at home Thursday night to avoid facing elimination when the series shifts to Boston for Game 5.
When the puck drops in Joe Louis Arena, here are five things to watch.
BLACKOUT D: By design, the Bruins are really good on defense. Claude Julien coaches them to clog the middle of the ice, blocking shots with bodies and sticks, and to be physical at times and patient when opponents stay on the outside with the puck. “It’s up to us to work hard without the puck,” Julien said. “We’ve done a good job of backchecking and that has been a big help. The defensive game is not just about the goaltending.”
WILL Z? OR WON’T Z? Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg created a buzz at Wednesday’s practice, skating hard with his teammates and sounding encouraged about how he feels eight weeks after having back surgery. Zetterberg would not rule out the possibility he will play in Game 4. “I’ve got to be cleared by the doctor,” he said. Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi said Zetterberg has looked “good and strong,” while skating with him this week.
YOUNG GUNS: Boston is a veteran-laden team, but its young players are starting to get noticed for scoring and doing their part on defense. Dougie Hamilton, a 20-year-old defenseman, scored his first playoff goal and Jordan Caron, a 23-year-old forward, had his first postseason point to help the Bruins beat Detroit 3-0 in Game 3. After playing his first fourth NHL game earlier this month, 23-year-old Justin Florek scored the first of Boston’s four goals in Game 2 and Reilly Smith, another 23-year-old forward, followed a few minutes later with his first career score in the playoffs.
IN THE NET: Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has a tough task, attempting to outplay Rask. He seemed to fall short when Boston scored its first goal in a 3-0 win Tuesday night on what looked like a relatively weak wrist shot. Howard, though, bristled when he was asked if it was “a soft goal,” the next day. “When your defenseman goes to throw his stick in front of him, he’s trying to do his best to deflect the puck away from the net,” Howard said. “That can cause a split hesitation where you don’t know where the puck is going to go for a second and just like that the puck is in the net.”
BABIES ON BOARD: Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk did not practice Wednesday so that he could be with his wife and baby, who the team said was born sometime after Game 3 Tuesday night. Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall also was absent because his girlfriend was expected to deliver their child on Wednesday. Babcock said he expected both to play in Game 4. “They’re not giving birth,” he deadpanned.
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