Two of the most storied teams in NHL history will have a quarter-final battle in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: the Detroit Red Wings (39-28-15), in their 23rd consecutive post-season, are up against the Boston Bruins (54-19-9), who were just two wins away from Lord Stanley’s Cup one year ago.
#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Detroit Red Wings
Season Series: Detroit, 3-1
The Bruins were on a mission in 2013-14, after being defeated in the Stanley Cup Final by the Chicago Blackhawks just one season ago. With just 28 total losses (19 in regulation), the Bruins were the President’s Trophy winners for the best regular-season record, the same trophy the Blackhawks took home in 2013.
The Bruins have one of the NHL’s best in-goal, Finnish superstar Tuukka Rask. Rask set an easy career-high in wins with 36, and was in the top five in both Save Percentage (2nd), and GAA (4th), while leading the league with seven shutouts. Chad Johnson has been solid as back-up in his first season with Boston, averaging a .925% save percentage in 27 appearances.
On defense, the Bruins’ indisputable leader is team captain, Zdeno Chara. Chara tied a career-high with 3 game-winning goals, appearing in all but 5 of the Bruins’ games. The B’s depth includes youngsters in second-year Dougie Hamilton and rookie Matt Bartowski, who have both impressed with extended roles. Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid are both on Injured Reserve for the Bruins, and both are not expected to play in the series, although a return at a later date is possible.
The Bruins’ offense was led by David Krejci, who amassed 69 points in 80 games. 2013 Selke Trophy finalist Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla were the only two Bruins to crack the 30-goal margin, while Brad Marchand set a career-high with a +36 rating. The Bruins’ fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Chris Kelly was arguably the best such unit in the league, and were a huge part of the B’s second-best +57 goal differential.
The Bruins had the league’s third most-dangerous power-play, at 21.7%, and their penalty kill was ranked 8th, with an 83.6% rating. Coach Claude Julien is in his seventh season with the Bruins, and has made the playoffs each season since his hiring in 2007-08, with two Eastern Conference Championships and a Stanley Cup under his belt.
Backstop: Tuukka Rask (36-15-6, .930% save percentage, 2.04 GAA) has been among the NHL’s elite in his first full season, and looks to carry the Bruins to the championship as he nearly did a season ago. Chad Johnson could make a start in this series, depending on the outcome of the first few games.
X-Factor: “The Curse”: The President’s Trophy winners have been plagued by embarassment in the playoffs before, despite Chicago winning the Stanley Cup last season. Will the Bruins be able to carry all their regular-season success against a veteran group in the Red Wings?
Ex-Jets: Marc Savard (2001-03) is still on the Bruins’ roster, but has not played since the 2011 season with post-concussion symptoms.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings’ playoff hopes were in doubt mid-way through the season after injuries to their key players piled up, but Detroit pushed through, and now hold the modern-day record for most consecutive post-season appearances, with 23.
Like the Bruins, the Wings fell victim to the Blackhawks in the 2013 playoffs, in a heart-breaking Game Seven overtime. The Wings kept their veteran core intact over the off-season, and added Daniel Alfredsson as a free-agent in early July.
The Wings are also gifted with an all-star goaltender, 30-year old Jimmy Howard. Howard struggled with consistency after returning from injury mid-season, but has played solid for the Wings down the stretch, despite an incredible 11 overtime/shootout losses. Jonas Gustavsson became an instant fan favourite in his first full season in Detroit, with 16 wins in 27 games in a back-up role.
Detroit’s defense is no pushover, and matching up against the Bruins’ Chara will be Niklas Kronwall, one of the league’s most vicious hitters. Kronwall finished just two points shy of his career-high point total, with 8 goals and 49 points in all but 3 games this season. Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, and Kyle Quincey all had solid seasons on the Wings’ blue-line, while Danny DeKeyser put up four goals and 23 points in his official rookie season.
The Wings’ veteran offense has been to the moon and back together, seemingly, with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Daniel Cleary all playing solid, despite all three missing time due to injury. Datsyuk was limited to only 45 games with a concussion, finishing with 37 points. Zetterberg is hopeful to return from back surgery sometime during the first round. The Wings have infused their forward group with youth in Luke Glendening, Joakim Andersson, and Tomas Tatar, while Gustav Nyquist finished the regular season as one of the hottest forwards league-wide, with 28 goals on the season.
Backstop: Jimmy Howard (21-19-11, .910% save percentage, 2.66 GAA) will lead the way for Detroit, but there is a strong possibility that back-up Jonas Gustavsson will get a look at some point during the first round.
X-Factor: Ageless Wonders?: Once again, a seemingly tired, aging Wings team heads into the playoffs, and we are back at the same question. Can this core shrug off the fatigue and put up a great playoff showing one more time, or will this be the year they fold early?
Ex-Jets: None. Darren Helm is from St. Andrews, Manitoba.
The Wings and Bruins haven’t met in the playoffs in 57 years, when in 1957, the Bruins defeated the Wings in five games to move on to the Stanley Cup Final. Brothers Brendan Smith (Detroit) and Riley Smith (Boston) will play each other in the post-season for the first time in their young careers, and there could be more match-ups ahead, with the Wings now in the Eastern Conference.
The Red Wings were the underdog in the quarterfinals one season ago, and knocked off the second-ranked Anaheim Ducks in Game Seven to move on to the second round. With such a grizzled group of veterans, coached by one of the best in Mike Babcock, the Wings simply cannot be taken lightly, even by the power-house Bruins.
Prediction Sure To Go Wrong:
The Red Wings are a cool, collected group in the playoffs, but injuries to some of their top guns, even the ones that are playing, will be too much for the club to overcome. The Bruins take the series in Game 6, after Johnny Boychuk scores the series-clinching goal.
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