Why the NHL-leading Bruins continue to struggle against the league-worst Red Wings

The Bruins have dropped five straight against the Red Wings, including two this season.

Detroit's left wing Brendan Perlini, second from right, celebrates his goal with Valtteri Filppula (51) and Adam Erne (73) in the second period behind a dejected Tuukka Rask.
Detroit's left wing Brendan Perlini, second from right, celebrates his goal with Valtteri Filppula (51) and Adam Erne (73) in the second period behind a dejected Tuukka Rask. –AP

COMMENTARY

It was a quick turnaround for the Boston Bruins coming off a convincing 4-2 victory against the Arizona Coyotes less than 24 hours earlier. A handful of questions followed the team on their 700-mile journey west to the Motor City, including Jeremy Lauzon’s fate following his to the head on Derek Stepan.

What wasn’t readily apparent was the health and availability of Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who was the scheduled starter and would have typically taken netminder responsibilities in the second game of a back-to-back. But Halak’s apparent upper-body injury paved the way for Tuukka Rask to make his first start on consecutive days since November of 2016.

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Rask had little time to address any wear and tear after Saturday’s start. Detroit, meanwhile, didn’t waste time testing Rask’s readiness, crashing the net early mostly in part due to an early Marchand tripping penalty. But the Bruins fought back on their own and out-shot the Red Wings 12-6 in the first frame.

Detroit struck first in the second period with a goal from Brendan Perlini just two minutes and seven seconds in, who shot it past Rask’s glove into the far side of the net to give the Red Wings a 1-0 lead.

The Bruins responded early in the third, with the hometown guy Torey Krug evening things up on a fabulous feed from David Pastrnak. It wasn’t enough. Andreas Athanasiou netted two unanswered goals — including an eventual empty netter — to give Detroit the 3-1 victory.

Here’s what we learned after the lowly Red Wings snapped the Bruins’ six-game win streak.

Bernier and the Red Wings have the Bruins’ number.

Okay, so it’s only been two regular-season games. But in both instances, it seemed bizarre that, despite the 48-point disparity in the standings, the Red Wings have managed to earn all four points in their two matchups this season (and the last five games they’ve played against each other).

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Lest we forget, back in November, the Bruins marched into Detroit and dropped an ugly 4-2 decision against the same team, in an eerily similar situation to Sunday.

The Red Wings are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and sit dead-last in the league, but sometimes all it takes is a good opponent coming into the building to spark momentum. And this year, that team has been the Boston Bruins.

Much like in the first meeting, the Bruins encountered troubles solving the Jonathan Bernier puzzle. The Red Wings netminder has stopped 67 of 70 shots in the two meetings, including 40 in Sunday’s win.

“He stopped the puck really well, and I mean that’s what he does right? He’s paid to stop the puck.” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said to the media following the game. “We made plays around him and we didn’t finish them.”

“[Bernier] seems to play well when we play them,” Krug added. “He was feeling it tonight, and even when he couldn’t see the puck, it would find a way to hit him…It seems they get really excited to play us. So, whatever reason it’s a tough matchup for us. I don’t think we really sank too far down, we played alright – we just have to find a way to get the puck to the back of the net.”

Boston’s power play struggled to gain traction.

The Bruins’ 26.3 percent rate on the power play sits only second to the Edmonton Oilers. Their 2-for-4 showing against the Coyotes once again proved that it’s easy to fall into an illusion of showcasing consistency night in and night out.

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Yet, against a Red Wings squad that has killed fewer than 75 percent of their penalties, the Bruins’ power play struggled to gain traction. The usually powerful man-advantage unit accumulated just eight shots on net in their 0-for-4 showing, including a brief 5-on-3 in the first period.

Cassidy’s squad had its chances, particularly at even strength. But the Bruins couldn’t capitalize in a frustrating afternoon highlighted by Chris Wagner missing an open net on a Charlie McAvoy setup in an attempt to tie things up at 2-2 in the third period.

“Two forwards miss wide-open nets — at some point that comes back to cost you, and today it did,” Cassidy said. “We made plays around [Bernier], we didn’t finish them. They’re open nets, you have to bear down and finish them.”