Sudden Death, Sudden Life

The only thing on Earth that is better than playoff hockey is overtime playoff hockey. That doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to satisfy, and there’s always a chance that it ends in heartbreak, but the payoff is so great when you win. Last night, the Bruins got their first taste of overtime playoff hockey since the Stanley Cup Finals last June.

It didn’t look good from the start. Detroit was playing like the team that needed the game more in the 1st period, trying to tie the series 2-2 and guarantee another home game at Joe Louis Arena rather, and were boosted by the return of their captain Henrik Zetterberg, who had not played since the Olympics when he injured his back playing for Sweden. The Wings dominated play in the 1st period, and had a 2-0 lead in the 2nd on goals from Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk, but the Bruins did not give up. After Torey Krug scored in the 2nd to make it 2-1 on an abbreviated power play, the B’s controlled the pace of play. Milan Lucic scored early in the 3rd, and the Bruins had plenty of chances to get ahead in that period, but Brad Marchand missed an open net, and Jonas Gustavsson was very strong in net for the Red Wings filling in for Jimmy Howard.

It took until overtime, but with the exception of a breakaway by Justin Abdelkader that was turned away by Tuukka Rask, all the great chances to score were Boston’s. In this series, we’ve seen 20 year old defenseman Dougie Hamilton grow up right before our eyes. Jarome Iginla got credit for the OT goal, but it was Hamilton’s shot that Iggy redirected. Hamilton is starting to play like the guy the Bruins were hoping they were getting when he was drafted in the summer of 2011. That’s what good teams do. They draft and develop the next generation of star players while winning in the meantime. Detroit did that in the late 90s and early 2000s, drafting Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Kronwall while competing every year for the Cup. Dougie has grown up a lot since being a healthy scratch for much of last year’s playoffs, and it’s time to start calling him Doug Hamilton, because he’s not playing like a little kid anymore.

Another player who has shown a lot of growth since the last playoff series the Bruins were in is Carl Soderberg. The Giant Angry One-Eyed Swede was still trying to get accustomed to the size of the rinks in the NHL when he had to play against Chicago in the Finals last spring. Now, he’s a force. Soderberg has made the B’s 3rd line a legitimate line to deal with whenever they’re on the ice. It’s good to see this guy finally succeed in the NHL after playing for years in his native Sweden.

The Bruins now have a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Red Wings and are heading home to the TD Garden to play Game 5 on Saturday. Things look good for the B’s right now. Zetterberg is one of the best players in the world, but he’s not up to speed with playoff hockey just yet. Todd Bertuzzi, who was Milan Lucic’s favorite player growing up in Vancouver, was never known for his speed, but he’s skating really slowly at 39. The Wings might have themselves a goalie controversy after how well Gusavsson played in place of Howard in Game 4.

As good as it may seem right now, the Bruins know perhaps better than any other team in the NHL that the series isn’t over until the fourth win. Claude Julien’s team choked away a 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, before winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. They had a 3-1 series lead last spring against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it took sudden death overtime in Game 7 for the B’s to end that series. The hated Montreal Canadiens are waiting around for the winner of this series after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Bruins need to take care of business with the Wings before they think about the Habs. Is it Saturday yet?

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