Time Out For Sports Talk: NHL’s Second Season Begins Old School for Bruins
Todd: The last time the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings met in the playoffs, Elvis was the undisputed king of rock and roll, gas cost about a quarter per gallon and driving a brand new Chevy was all the rage.
Back on April 4, 1957, the B’s defeated the Red Wings and league MVP Gordie Howe 4-3 at the Detroit Olympia to close out the NHL’s top seed four games to one before losing to the eventual champion Montreal Canadiens (a playoff path that could wind up repeating itself 57 years later).
Now thanks to realignment, these two Original Six clubs finally get to meet again in a best-of-seven series and perhaps reignite what was once a decent rivalry back in the day.
It has been an incredible regular season for the Bruins, going 54-19-9 (including that crazy 15-1-1 month of March) to win their first President’s Trophy (most points in NHL) since 1990. That year the B’s made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, but not before nearly getting upset in the first round by those pesky Hartford Whalers. (It always comes back to the Whale, right?) Could Boston have another first-round playoff fight on its hands?
Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a totally different animal from the NHL’s regular season and tend to produce upsets of all shapes and sizes, on paper this series looks to be fairly one-sided.
While I suppose Bruins fans could be concerned about recent injuries to Daniel Paille (concussion) and Chris Kelly (back) and the long-term absence of Dennis Seidenberg (rehabbing his way back from a torn ACL and MCL), this is still an extremely deep and talented team that has vastly improved in two areas that were shortfalls during their deep playoff runs of 2011 and 2013.
During the 2013-14 season, the B’s finished third in both total scoring (3.15 goals per game) and on the power play (20.9 percent success rate). They had five players who scored more than 20 goals and five others who scored at least 10 goals. Add to that a last line of defense in Tuukka Rask (36-15-6, 2.04 GAA, .930 save pct, 7 shutouts) who’s as consistently good as they come in net and may win the Vezina Trophy.
Other Bruins to keep an eye on this postseason include Jarome Iginla (30 goals, 61 points), the new guy this year who has been a perfect fit on the top line with David Krejci (led B’s with 69 points) and Milan Lucic (24 G, 59 pts) and who really wants to win a Cup; Zdeno Chara (10 of his 17 goals this year came on the power play), whose presence on both ends of the ice make it difficult for all opponents; and Carl Soderberg (16 G, 48 pts), who has picked up his play over the last month, making the B’s third line so dangerous.
Across the ice, these are not your Red Wings who have won four Cups in the last two decades; they’re not even the Wings who last won a Cup in 2008. They had to go 6-2-1 down the stretch just to clinch the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They have had to battle numerous injuries, with Henrik Zetterberg (48 pts in only 45 games) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (limited to just 48 games) the two most impactful players expected to miss this upcoming series.
If there are guys to watch for Detroit, there’s 24 year-old former Maine Black Bear Gustav Nyquist, who led the Wings in goals (24), scoring 21 of them over the team’s last 30 games; veteran right wing Daniel Alfredsson, who tends to save his best play for the spring (100 points in 121 career playoff games); and goaltender Jimmy Howard (21-19-11, 2.66 GAA this season, 20-22 career playoff record), who might just need to literally stand on his head if the Red Wings have any chance of making this a competitive series.
I say that is not going to happen. Despite the long layoff leading up to the start of this series, I think that benefits the B’s veteran players and gets them focused for the task at hand. My pick: Bruins in five.
Mike: Wow, it’s hard to believe it has been that long since the Bruins last played Detroit in the playoffs, though the Wings have been in the Western Conference for some time.
This is why the recent division realignment is good for the NHL, it has put 5 of the Original 6 teams in the East, so there will be many more chances for these traditional rivals to square off against each other. And with Chicago being the sole Original 6 team in the West, there is an outside chance of a rematch in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. There’s a long road before the finals, and the Red Wings are the first obstacle.
I must confess, I think I am more afraid of the Red Wings of the past than of the current team. When I think of this series, I think of how tough Detroit has been in the past, and I wonder how the Bruins, despite the fact that they finished with the best record in the league, could ever have a chance against the mighty Red Wings.
The other thing I fear is a playoff let down. It happened last year as the Bruins got the postseason off to a slow start against Toronto, needing a miracle comeback in an epic Game 7 to advance past the first round before making quick work of the Rangers (4-1) and the top-seeded Penguins (a 4-0 sweep) on their way to a 4-2 loss to Chicago in the Finals.
The Bruins were on a mission this season to take that final step and regain the Cup, and I think they have a great shot to do so, but they have to guard against that let down in the early rounds of the playoffs. They need to get off to a fast start and bury Detroit early to keep the momentum up for a big playoff run.
It doesn’t always happen, but I have to agree with Todd here. Bruins take it in 5.
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