IN A WIERD, twisted case of role reversal, the team with the best record was trying to steal a game Friday night.
In its own building.
In the first game of the playoffs.
In the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But sorry, Bruins fans, your No. 1-seeded team didn't have enough time last night to retool themselves into plucky underdogs. The Detroit Red Wings claimed a 1-0 victory in a tense, thrilling Game 1 on Pavel Datsyuk's shot under the glove of goaltender Tuukka Rask with 3:01 remaining in the third period.
And suddenly it just seems so laughable that there were any pundits or fans banking on the No. 1 seed dispatching the No. 8 seed in four, or maybe five, games.
Have we learned nothing over the years? Hockey, more than any other sport, has a way of turning regular season powerhouses into postseason busts. The road to the Stanley Cup is littered with broken teams that had plenty of oomph in December and January but plenty of nothing in April and May.
Sometimes it's injuries. Sometimes it's the other team's goalie standing on his head. Sometimes it's an old-fashioned choke job. Sometimes it's a bad call or a bad bounce. But it's always something. Every year, you get a very good team that makes a very early exit.
And so today the question must be asked: Will that team be the Presidents' Trophy Bruins this time around?
OK, so let's get to the role reversal stuff. You had your No. 1 seed Bruins playing without left winger Daniel Paille (concussion) and center Chris Kelly (back) - which is bad enough. But how about a little stomach flu to liven up the first playoff series between these two Original Six franchises since 1957? So defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller were handed official Stanley Cup Pepto-Bismol and sent home to bed.
And suddenly, the postseason Bruins were doing a remarkable imitation of the regular-season Red Wings: They were hurting.
When this mostly mistake-free game was over and it was time for Bruins coach Claude Julien to speak to the media, he dead-bolted the injury excuse with six simple words: "Injuries are part of the game."
But he followed with a rather candid look at how his afternoon had gone.
"We kind of had to wait the whole day to find out who was in, who was out," he said. "We've had surprises all week long with the flu bug going around. It was nice that we were able to get 20 guys in our lineup."
If that last quote sounds like Julien was indeed making excuses after having just put it out there that, you know, injuries are part of the game, he was not, in fact, making excuses. He was just being honest, and then he got back to the original message when he said, "There are certain areas we have to get better at, obviously, to create more scoring chances. We have to find a way to get to the net. We have to find a way to get more shots."
The Bruins did get to the net, and did get off a great shot with just over three minutes remaining. That's when Milan Lucic tried to redirect a Jarome Iginla shot past Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, except that Howard got a glove on it.
"It was a fortunate save," said Howard. "It was pretty lucky. (Lucic) 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."
Oh. So to that list of reasons for postseason busts, we must now add "lucky save by opposing goaltender."
If Howard isn't lucky, maybe the Bruins win 1-0 and we aren't having this discussion. But he was lucky ... and just seconds later Datsyuk beat Rask with what proved to be the game-winner.
And, in a way, it was reminiscent of the last Stanley Cup playoff game played at the Garden. Last June, just as you thought the Bruins and Blackhawks were going to overtime, the Blackhawks won the game and the Cup.
Friday night, just as you thought the Bruins and Red Wings were going to overtime, the Red Wings won it.
No. 1 vs. No. 8? Totally irrelevant now. Heck, it was totally irrelevant going into this series.