(Ed. Note: With its new playoff format, the NHL is seeking to create passion for fans and teams through forced, bracketed relationships. But hey, at first glance, the matchups are pretty sexy. All of this led to one ideal theme for our 2014 Playoff Preview: Tinder, the social media dating app. We hope you swipe right this postseason ...)
The Boston Bruins had an Eastern Conference playoff spot wrapped up quite early in the season. Having been on cruise control for much of the final half of the regular season, the Bruins were able to give players rest and prepare them for what they hope is another long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After a few scary moments and some doubts, the Detroit Red Wings extended their extraordinary playoff streak to 23 years. This was all done with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk playing only 45 games and the team as a whole finishing second overall in the NHL with 417 man-games lost to injury.
They’re not fully healthy, but they’re getting there. Can the Red Wings force a first round upset?
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
April 18: Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET.
April 20: Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins, 3 p.m. ET.
April 22: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET.
April 24: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings, 8 p.m. ET.
April 26: Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins, 3 p.m. ET*
April 28: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings, TBA*
April 30: Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins, TBA*
Good balanced scoring has been the recipe of the Bruins’ recent success. That continued in 2013-14 with nine players recording 40 or more points and five with 20-plus goals. Boston was one three teams to finish with an average of three-plus goals for per game (3.15). They take a lot of shots (2613), so they’re going to score a ton as well.
The top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla combined for 73 goals, with Iggy — this year’s Old Guy Everyone Will Root For To Win The Cup — leading the way with 30. Behind Krejci down the middle is likely Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron, who posted his best offensive season in some time with 30 goals and 62 points. He was also third in the NHL in the face-off circle winning 58.6-percent of his draws.
The reason why the Bruins have been so successful is their secondary scoring. Brad Marchand (25 goals) and newcomers Loui Eriksson (37 points) and Reilly Smith (20 goals, 51 points) will be relied upon to contribute. After playing only two games last spring, Carl Soderberg (48 points) is expected to step up as well.
Also, what kind of contributions can the “Merlot Line” of Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille bring after last year?
Henrik Zetterberg likely won’t play in Round 1, but could return to the Red Wings should they upset the Bruins. Pavel Datsyuk is back and should be close to his normal self once the series kicks off Friday. Detroit’s overcome an array of injuries this season, so any turbulence experienced against Boston shouldn’t be an obstacle for them.
Despite the losses of their two top stars, the Red Wings did see others step up in their absence. Nyquist was the big story, with his month of March vaulting him up the team scoring lead (48 points) finishing one point behind Daniel Alfredsson (18 goals, 49 points). He was also Detroit’s only 20-goal scorer (28), but the likes of Tomas Tatar (19), Johan Franzen (16) and Darren Helm (12) helped carry the load.
Free agent acquisition Stephen Weiss was limited to only 26 games, so GM Ken Holland went out and traded for David Legwand to help their depth and add some secondary scoring.
From there, Babcock will rely on kids Joakim Andersson, Luke Glendening, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco to contribute.
The Bruins were struck a blow when they lost Dennis Seidenberg to a torn ACL. Even without him, Boston finished with the second fewest goals allowed in the NHL, averaging 2.08 goals per game because they still have Zdeno Chara. The 37-year old scored 17 goals and posted 40 points. He was also a heavy driver of possession and relied upon for defensive zone starts.
Helping Chara from the back offensively was Torey Krug, who came on the scene a year ago in the playoffs. His 40 points tied Chara for the most among Bruins defensemen and his 19 power play points were best from the back. Also, Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk had strong possession numbers, while combining for 12 goals and 48 points.
While injuries hit their forward group hard, the Red Wings defense fared a tad better in the health department. It all begins with Niklas Kronwall, who saw 25 of his 49 points come via the power play and led the team in ice time averaging 24:18 per game. He’ll be paired with Brendan Smith (53.9-percent Corsi rating) with Jonathan Ericsson sidelined after finger surgery.
Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey will handle a load matching up with one of Boston’s top lines. Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff will head up the third pairing. Quincey, Lashoff and DeKeyser will also play roles on the penalty kill, which will have its hands full trying to move Chara from out in front of Jimmy Howard.
Tuukka Rask will more than likely be one of the three Vezina Trophy finalists after posting seven shutouts and finishing with a .941 even strength save percentage. After last season’s deep run and representing Finland in the Olympic Games, Rask was given plenty of time to rest during the regular season, thanks to the emergence of Chad Johnson as a solid no. 2.
Along with many of his teammates, Jimmy Howard fought through several injuries this season. But when he Red Wings need him down the stretch to squeeze into one of the East’s wild card spots, he came through winning seven of his last 11 starts. He’ll have his work cut out for him against a team that finished with the fifth-most shots for in the NHL.
The Bruins were well in control of their playoff destiny for weeks, so giving guys a rest meant a 5-3-2 finish to the season.
Detroit has been playing playoff hockey for weeks just to get in and finished strong with a 6-3-1 record, extending their streak to 23 years.
Advantage: Red Wings.
After coming close to forcing a Game 7 in last year’s Stanley Cup Final, Claude Julien and his charges fought off a hangover and cruised to the Eastern Conference regular season title and the Presidents’ Trophy. A number of his players have been under his leadership since their 2011 Cup conquest. They know what to expect and Julien knows exactly what buttons to push to get the most out of them.
Mike Babcock faced his toughest test this season dealing with an onslaught of injuries that ravaged the Red Wings’ lineup all while threatening their playoff streak. They fought off the choppy waters and clinched a wild car spot, just as the trainer’s room begins to get less and less crowded. Like Julien, Babcock has a Cup ring and knows just how arduous the journey is through four rounds of playoff hockey.
Jimmy Howard will have a fun time trying to see the puck while shorthanded with Zdeno Chara blocking his view. The Bruins’ captain led the team with 10 power play goals this season and helped them to finish third overall in power play success at 21.7-percent.
Missing some of their top offensive players throughout the season helped see the Red Wings’ power play drop a bit to a 17.7-percent success rate. Despite playing only 45 games apiece, Zetterberg and Datsyuk combined for 29 power play points, something that will only improve once both are fully healthy.
The penalty kills are similar, with the Bruins holding a 0.6-percent advantage (83.6-percent vs. 83-percent), but Boston did score nine shorthanded goals, with Brad Marchand potting five.
SERIES SLOW JAM
"Thinking About You", by Frank Ocean
Very topical, with its central line of "Or do you not think so far ahead?" The Bruins shouldn't overlook their first-round opponents.
Players to watch.
SWIPE LEFT ON... Brad Marchand. The “Noseface Killah” had another strong regular season, but we’re still waiting for him to regain his scoring touch from the 2011 Cup run. Over the last two postseasons, Marchand has scored only 5 times in 29 games.
SWIPE RIGHT ON... Gustav Nyquist. At some point, Nyquist is going to fall back down to Earth hard. It may have started with him going goalless in Detroit’s final six games, but if he can get on another streak, well… we saw what that did for the Red Wings in March.
Goaltending and defense is what helps you win playoff series and Stanley Cups. The Bruins have that over the Red Wings in this series. Trying to beat a rested Tuukka Rask and exploiting Zdeno Chara in an early round match-up will be too tough for Detroit to overcome. But this Red Wings team has met every challenged faced this season, so it won’t be an easy ride to the second round for Boston.
Bruins in six.
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