BOSTON - Although the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings are two of the NHL's Original 6 franchises and are two of the league's oldest United States-based teams, the two haven't seen a whole lot of each other in recent years playing in different conferences.
While the two teams have been Stanley Cup threats in recent years, with each winning a Stanley Cup title along with winning their respective conferences twice since 2008, the two haven't crossed paths in their recent playoff runs. In fact, the two teams haven't met in a playoff series since 1957 -- a span of 56 years.
With the Red Wings moving to the Eastern Conference this season and joining the new the newly-reformed Atlantic Division along with the Bruins, the two historic franchises are sharing the same division for the first time in 39 years. And with the two teams still carrying Stanley Cup hopes -- with the Bruins being the defending Eastern champs and the Red Wings coming closest of any team to knocking eventual Stanley Cup winner Chicago out of the playoffs last spring -- the two teams figure to be in the mix for supremacy in the new division.
If the two teams finish in the Atlantic's top three spots this season, the two will likely have to get through the other to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. And with the two teams being two of the league's perennial contenders, it should set up for quite a divisional rivalry down the road.
Saturday night at TD Garden, the two teams got a chance to set the tone for the newly reformed rivalry with their first meeting of the season, and the Bruins got the first win, came out with a 4-1 victory in which Boston came out quickly and were able to set the tempo against a tired Detroit team that had played three games in four nights.
"Well I think it was important for them to get off to a good start," Bruins coach Claude Julien said afterwards. "It was their third game in four nights so for teams like that, it's important to get off to a good start and try to establish a lead. Because if the other team does, then you're having to push the pace and it's a little bit tougher for those kind of guys.
"But we were fortunate enough to open up the game with the first goal, and they tied it up but we just came back and kept plugging away here."
Torey Krug was able to get the Bruins on the board first with his first career regular-season goal by blasting a shot past Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard, and Boston jumped out to a 10-2 shot advantage early as they pressed the Red Wings, who were coming off a comeback win in Carolina the night before.
Although Henrik Zetterberg tied up the score before the first period ended, the Bruins wrested control back when Patrice Bergeron scored just :36 into the second period, and the Bruins didn't look back, getting goals from Jordan Caron and Zdeno Chara for the first divisional win over Detroit for Boston since March 31, 1974.
Despite the score, there was a lot of respect for the Red Wings in the Bruins' locker room, and the threat they pose in the new division.
"Well, they have a lot of skill," Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said of what challenges the Red Wings pose to a goaltender. "Not so much [like Alexander] Ovechkin's or any heavy shooters but they have good skill and good releases. They like to look down, take that extra second to make that extra play so you just have to be on your toes all the time."
"Detroit is one of the best teams in the league and I knew it would be a challenge," Chara said afterwards. "They always give you a challenge, they've always had a good team, good system and they're very dangerous guys. So, yeah we wanted to have a strong game and for the most part I thought we did."
"We know they're a great team no matter what, so we needed to bring our best and I thought we did that overall for the whole game, and we found a way," Bergeron said. "They're a great team, but still we played well. Solid defense, and that translated into some scoring chances for us."
Down the hallway, the Red Wings weren't happy with their performance, and after beating Buffalo and Carolina in their first two games of the year, they knew they fell flat Saturday.
"Well Boston is maybe one of the most structured teams in the East I'm sure, and they played really solid tonight all over the ice and we didn't play very good at all," Niklas Kronwall told reporters. "We didn't give ourselves a chance and it'd be a true test if we really showed something out there tonight, but we didn't and that's why we lost."
"I think they play a good structure," Zetterberg said of Boston. "We had a lot of turnovers and giveaways today. They're fast in their transition. When you play a good team like this you got have good structure yourself, and we didn't have that today. I think when you play back-to-back that's the most important. Just keep it simple and stick to your game plan, but we didn't do that today."
Howard was more succinct.
"They controlled the whole game, from the drop of the puck to the end of the game," he said. "They pretty much dominated in every aspect."
Of course, this was just the first chapter in what figures to be one of the better rivalries created by the new realignment.
Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli talked about the new structure earlier this week with Boston reporters, and talked about the challenge it creates for his team.
"The addition of Detroit and Columbus, they're good teams; Detroit more with their history and their past performance," he said. "So yeah, I think it's going to be more difficult."
"I feel we're in a good spot. ... So it's new, I like the idea of playing within your division [in the playoffs]. I think we're good in our division, I think a lot of teams are good, but I think we play well within our division."
Certainly, while the Red Wings have pushed the league for years to come East (for numerous reasons including easier travel, playing primarily in the Eastern Time Zone, and other factors) the new reality takes Detroit out of a division with one Stanley Cup Finalist in Chicago and right into another with Boston.
While the Red Wings lose some of their rivals from their days in the West with Chicago, Vancouver and St. Louis left behind, the new rivalry with Boston should prove to be one of the league's best new rivalries going forward.
And, if it's anything like Saturday's games, it should be quite a show when the two teams cross paths again as the rivalry begins to rebuild.