NHL Preview from The Sports Network|
Friday, April 18th
(All times Eastern)
Detroit Red Wings (0-0) at Boston Bruins (0-0), 7:30 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Boston Bruins begin their Eastern Conference title
defense against an Original Six rival, as they host Game 1 of a best-of-seven
series Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Considering the Bruins and Red Wings played in opposite conferences for
decades, this playoff meeting is a rare treat for NHL fans. In fact, the last
time these Original Six foes met in the postseason was in 1957 when neither
club's current coaches were born yet.
Boston and Detroit have met seven times in the playoffs with the Bruins taking
four of those encounters, including the 1957 semifinal round matchup.
The Red Wings, however, have won three straight in the regular season against
Boston and seven of the previous eight encounters. Boston's only victory in
the 2013-14 season series was a 4-1 home win back on Oct. 5, while Detroit
beat the Bruins as recently as April 2, when it picked up a 3-2 regulation win
in the Motor City.
Still, heading into the opening round of the playoffs the Bruins are once
again the team to beat in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the entire NHL.
Boston, which in 2011 won its first Stanley Cup since the days of Bobby Orr,
is not only the defending East champions, but it also enters this postseason
as winners of the 2013-14 Presidents' Trophy. The club's 117 points were the
most gained by the franchise since 1971-72 (119 pts) and Boston finished as
the top team in the regular season for the first time since 1989-90.
Despite heading into the postseason with a ton of confidence, the Bruins know
they can't afford to look past their first-round opponent. Boston made it to
the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three seasons last spring, but
before it fell in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Bruins nearly lost
in the first round to Toronto.
The Bruins blew a 3-1 series' lead against the Maple Leafs and needed to
overcome a 4-1 third-period deficit in Game 7 to get past Toronto. It marked
fourth straight Boston was
a fourth seed in last spring's matchup with Toronto, but the B's shouldn't
expect their No. 1 standing in the East to instill fear in the Detroit Red
Wings this time around.
It marked the third straight spring Boston went seven games in the first
round. The Bruins beat Montreal four games to three in 2011 en route to its
Stanley Cup title, but lost in seven the following season against Washington.
"I don't know, it just seems to be the biggest battle for us and the hardest
one to get through," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said of his club's tendency to
play long opening-round series. "I don't think it's going to be any different
heading into this series. So we've got to be prepared to bring our best
because you talk about the last three years, you know the other team hasn't
taken us lightly at all and they've given us their best."
Boston is known best as a big, physical team that is really tough to score
against, but the club made considerable strides in the offensive end in
2013-14. The Bruins averaged just 2.62 goals per game during the lockout-
shortened season before upping that scoring rate to 2.96 gpg in the 2013
playoffs. This season, Boston is third in the NHL with 3.15 gpg through 82
games and hopes to maintain that goal-scoring clip in the upcoming playoffs.
Six Boston forwards finished the season with over 50 points this season.
Leading the way on offense were David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, the club's
top two centermen. Krejci dished out a club-best 50 assists to help him pace
the B's with 69 points, while Bergeron had 62 points and tied winger Jarome
Iginla for the club lead with 30 goals.
While Boston's forwards contribute to their club's overall stinginess on
defense, immense blueliner Zdeno Chara and steady goaltender Tuukka Rask get
most of the credit.
Rask is coming off a Vezina-caliber season, going 36-15-6 with a 2.04 goals
against average and .930 save percentage. The 27-year-old Finn is looking to
follow up his award-worthy campaign with another strong postseason. Rask was
the anchor for Boston's run to the Cup Finals last spring, recording a 1.88
GAA and .940 save percentage in 22 playoff games.
The 6-foot-9 Chara is a unique talent who combines size and skill to create
havoc at both ends of the ice. The 2008-09 Norris Trophy winner has a booming
slap shot and recorded 17 goals and 40 points over 77 games this season and
Boston's captain has racked up 54 points (13 goals, 41 assists) over 129
career playoff games.
The Red Wings may have moved from the Western Conference to the East prior to
the 2013-14 campaign, but the end result was the same as Detroit qualified for
the playoffs for a 23rd straight season.
On paper, Detroit doesn't match up well with the mighty Bruins but the club
doesn't figure to be an easy out so long as Mike Babcock is behind the bench.
Babcock has been to the Cup Finals three times as a coach, winning it with
Detroit in 2008, and also has led Team Canada to Olympic gold medals at the
last two Winter Games.
Last spring, the coach helped the seventh-seeded Red Wings eliminate the
Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round. He also had the
eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes in Round 2, but
the Hawks won three straight to oust Detroit in seven games.
This season, Babcock guided his club to the playoffs despite the club dealing
with considerable injury problems all along the way. Detroit enters the
playoffs reasonably healthy compared to other points of the season, but the
club will begin the first round without captain Henrik Zetterberg (back
surgery), fellow forwards Dan Cleary (sprained knee) Stephen Weiss (sports
hernia surgery) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger surgery).
Star forward Pavel Datsyuk also was limited to only 45 games this season, but
he returned to the lineup earlier this month and is ready to go for Round 1.
The Russian has amassed 103 points (36g, 67a) over 140 career playoff games.
Faced with injuries to numerous key veterans, young forwards Gustav Nyquist
and Tomas Tatar stepped up for the Red Wings in a big way down the stretch.
That was particularly true of the 24-year-old Nyquist, who led Detroit with 28
goals this season in just 57 games.
Nyquist has two goals and three assists over 18 career playoff games, but he
could be ready for a breakout postseason after showing Babcock and the hockey
world what he can do with increased playing time.
Tatar, 23, added 19 goals and 20 assists in 73 games for the Red Wings this
season. However, the young Slovakian winger has never skated in an NHL playoff
As a whole, Detroit's offense ranked 16th in the league this season with just
2.65 gpg. Niklas Kronwall is the clear No. 1 defenseman for Detroit in front
of No. 1 goaltender Jimmy Howard.
Kronwall has done a superb job of replacing fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom in
that role. Lidstrom, of course, retired following the 2011-12 season, leaving
seven Norris Trophy wins and a Hall of Fame legacy behind him. Kronwall led
Detroit in average ice time with 24 minutes, 18 seconds of action a game. His
49 points (8g, 41a) more than doubled the offensive output of the club's next-
best defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who had 23 points on four goals and 19
Howard, meanwhile, is coming off a mediocre regular season that saw him go
21-19-11 with a 2.66 GAA and .910 save percentage. The 30-year-old American
had posted a 2.13 GAA in each of the previous two seasons and his save
percentage was .920 or better in both campaigns.
Over 42 career playoff games, Howard has compiled a 2.57 GAA and .918 save
The injured Zetterberg led the Red Wings with three goals during the season
series, while Tatar had two goals and two assists. Nyquist added two goals and
a helper, while Howard was 1-1-0 with a 3.00 GAA.
Rask struggled to a 1-3-0 record and 3.29 GAA in four games versus Detroit,
while no Boston player had more than one goal in the series. Reilly Smith led
the Bruins with four points -- all assists -- in four games.
Boston, which also will host Detroit in Game 2 on Sunday, was an impressive
31-7-3 as the home team this season. The Red Wings were 21-15-5 on the road.
04/18 10:45:34 ET