A lot has changed over the last 23 NHL seasons, but there's been one constant: The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs each time. While it looked like this year may serve as the streak-buster, with injuries depleting Detroit of some key players, a late push did enough to squeak the Red Wings in as the final seed in the East.
Opposite Detroit is a Boston side that expects nothing less than the Stanley Cup this postseason. Coming off a crushing 4-2 loss in last year's Final, this Bruins team may be even better than last year's. They ran away with the conference, clear of second-place Pittsburgh by eight points.
Can the Bruins replace Seidenberg?
This may be the only area of slight concern as far as Boston is concerned. The Bruins are without Dennis Seidenberg, who tore his ACL in late December. Seidenberg averaged over 28 minutes of ice time during the Bruins' 2011 Cup run, and about 27 minutes the last two postseasons. Boston is also missing Adam McQuaid, who has been held out since Jan. 19 after aggravating a quadriceps injury.
The outlook isn't completely grim for the Bruins -- they are still anchored from the blue line by Zdeno Chara, who should win his second Norris Trophy this year. But where the Bruins might struggle defensively is keeping up with Detroit's quicker forwards. Guys like Gustav Nyquist and Pavel Datsyuk can really push the pace. While Detroit's defensemen like to bump and interfere a lot, the Bruins won't shy away from physical contact either.
Nicklas Lidstrom was part of 20 of those 23 Detroit playoff teams, and of course he's no longer with the Red Wings. Niklas Kronwall had a strong season on defense for Detroit but will face a stiff first-round test against Boston's top guns.
Boston's depth wins on offense
Depth scoring is paramount to a deep playoff run, and the Bruins are the deepest team in the entire NHL at the forward position. Claude Julien rolls three very capable lines, making it difficult for teams to match up. It starts with the north-south, smash-mouth trio of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla. Boston did well to reinvigorate Iginla, who posted a team-high 30 goals during the regular season.
Detroit's forward situation is a bit murkier. The Red Wings are still without one of their top offensive players in Henrik Zetterberg. They've still got the "magic man" in Datsyuk, and Nyquist, who has scored 14 goals and added 10 assists in the 24 games since the Olympic break. For the Red Wings to find success against the Bruins, they'll have to stretch them out, and get them defending on the move. A lot of that starts in Detroit's own zone, and its ability to turn defense into offense.
Having the Vezina favorite helps
For Detroit, Jimmy Howard has battled has been battling a knee injury most of the season. It's hindered him from getting into any kind of groove in net, though he has been pretty steady since early February.
Two U's, two K's, two Cups? Tuukka Rask has been one of the top goalies in the league since taking over the reins to the Bruins crease following Tim Thomas' unceremonious exit. When the Bruins last won the Cup in 2011, Rask was the backup, and is looking to now win it in Boston as the top guy. Rask should win his first Vezina this year, and if last year's playoffs are any indication, the Bruins have nothing to worry about in goal.
Photo credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bruins also have special teams edge
This was an area that actually cost the Bruins big time in last year's postseason run. A big part of that was a lack of options, as the Bruins struggled to find power-play goals from different players last season. Chara -- while newly playing in front of the net instead of the point -- pumped in 10 this season, while Patrice Bergeron had seven, Reilly Smith and Torey Krug had six, and Carl Soderberg had five.
The Red Wings' power play was pretty run-of-the-mill, converting at an 18 percent click, good enough for 18th in the league. Both teams are pretty strong on the kill, with the Wings (83 percent, 12th overall) and Boston (83.6 percent, eighth overall) pretty tough to score on when shorthanded.
|Date||Time (ET)||Eastern Conference First Round||National TV|
|Fri, Apr 18||7:30 p.m.||Detroit at Boston||NBCSN, TSN|
|Sun, Apr 20||3 p.m.||Detroit at Boston||NBC, TSN|
|Tue, Apr 22||7:30 p.m.||Boston at Detroit||NBCSN, TSN|
|Thu, Apr 24||8 p.m.||Boston at Detroit||NBCSN, TSN|
|Sat, Apr 26||3 p.m.||Detroit at Boston||NBC, TSN|
|Mon, Apr 28||TBD||Boston at Detroit||TSN|
|Wed, Apr 30||TBD||Detroit at Boston||TSN|