Playoff preview: Red Wings vs. Bruins
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
Record and head-to-head
Red Wings: 39-28-15
Head to head: Boston defeated Detroit 4-1 on Oct. 5, but the Red Wings have won the last three match-ups.
After 82 games, the Boston Bruins stand alone at the top of the mountain, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy and boasting possibly the best offense, defense, and goaltending in the Eastern Conference — maybe in the NHL. For the entire regular season, they were bigger, smarter, and played harder over the full sheet of ice than anyone else. Their numbers, from both a conventional and advanced statistics standpoint, are supreme. The Bruins are a terrific hockey club.
But terrific hockey clubs lose in the Stanley Cup playoffs every season, and teams that win the Presidents’ Trophy rarely win the Cup that same year. In addition, the Bruins have drawn a very dangerous opponent in their first round; they will look to apply heavy pressure on the Detroit Red Wings’ debilitated defensive corps.
The Red Wings are an amalgamation of young and old, fast and not so fast, dynamic and deliberate. However, they do have some uniform characteristics: They are a tenacious, wily group, all of whom have adopted the personality of their extremely smart coach, Mike Babcock.
Bruins: 38.9 (3rd)
Red Wings: -2.1 (16th)
The game plan for Detroit will be to match Boston’s physicality and be the aggressors. The last thing the Red Wings want is the Bruins feeling cozy dominating the possession battle in their own zone. The Red Wings are notorious for employing pick-plays to create time and space for teammates with the puck, so they could throw a jarring hit – maybe by Justin Abdelkader – at the beloved Patrice Bergeron to try to knock the Bruins off kilter.
This might seem like a macabre suggestion, but the NHL playoffs is about exploiting teams’ weaknesses, and if Boston is indeed temperamental, as Montreal has provoked them to be at times this season, that is a weakness. Ruffling the Bruins’ feathers and diverting them from their shrewd brand of hockey would be an achievement for Detroit.
Bruins: 15.9 (7th)
Red Wings: 2.0 (15th)
Boston has a defined comfort level, and that is in on the cycle when they are vacationing in opposing teams’ defensive zones and utilizing puck support in their exact counterattacks. This effort is led by Bergeron, who continues to be a luminary in the advanced statistics community as he dominates all 200 feet of the ice. Bergeron does not tip the ice, rather he capsizes it. His ability to drive play, regardless of ice positioning or competition, is nothing short of incredible. Bergeron embodies what the Bruins succeed at so well: winning every race and battle for the puck. The Bruins are so good that surviving their salvo – and there always is one — and keeping the game close is paramount.
Boston’s breakout is nearly always clean and premeditated, and their work below the circles screams equidistant triangular forecheck. Their five-men units often take on an amorphous appearance as young defenders like Dougie Hamilton or Torey Krug will be the first skater into the offensive zone on the race to the puck. The Bruins’ forays into the offensive zone are typified by their lethal high-low synchronization. They open up the middle of the ice with heavy shooting from the point.
Bruins: 26.2 (1st)
Red Wings: -4.3 (23rd)
You won’t find a much better and more reliable goalie than Tuukka Rask. His incredible .942 even-strength save percentage was No. 1 in the NHL. Whether he is a product of the system or just an amazing netminder sometimes is hard to seperate – either way, the Red Wings’ top scorers will have to be on their game to beat him.
Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard had an uneven regular season, but in last season’s playoffs he was fantastic, posting a .924 save percentage. If Detroit has any hope of winning, that high-end play from Howard will need to return.
Bruins: Power play – 21.7% (3rd) – penalty kill – 83.6 (8th)
Red Wings: Power play – 17.7 (18h) – penalty kill – 83.0 (12th)
Key Match-up: Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg/Niklas Kronwall vs. Boston’s skaters
Finding advantages for Detroit is tough. But, arguably, the Red Wings possess three of the top five skaters in this series (Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Kronwall for Detroit; Bergeron and Zdeno Chara for Boston).
Twelve months ago, Datsyuk and Zetterberg reminded the public that they have an extra gear, with their superb play leading to the Red Wings upsetting the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, and very nearly defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals. NHL history is dotted with players carrying their teams to unimaginable heights through otherworldly, if fleeting, brilliance. It is possible that Datsyuk and Zetterberg could provide vintage performances and give Boston a serious scare.
Key Stat: +84
The Boston Bruins finished the regular season with the best goal differential in the NHL by a significant margin. Over the last eleven years – arbitrary end point alert! –only three teams have had a better goal differential than this season’s Bruins (the Ottawa Senators and Red Wings in 2005-06, and the Washington Capitals in 2009-10). Oddly enough, in spite of their regular season dominance, none of these teams made it to the conference finals. Regular season mastery is not a requisite for the playoffs – the postseason is a different beast. Of course, the Chicago Blackhawks led the NHL in goal differential last year and DID win the Cup.
Prediction: Bruins in six
Sam Hitchcock writes extensively about the NHL and is the founder and writer of intelligenthockey.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IntelligHockey.