Red Wings vs. Bruins: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup
It may be a No. 1 vs. No. 8 battle, but expect Boston-Detroit to be one of the first-round series to get the most attention nationally. It's an Original Six matchup between the East's top contender and a Detroit team that until recently has been a powerhouse and may still be capable of some surprises.
Read on for key storylines, scheduling information and everything else fans of either team need to know before the series starts.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of NHL.com.
Boston Bruins: Boston's run to the top of the Eastern Conference wasn't so much a race as it was a coronation. The Bruins finished eight points up on Pittsburgh despite playing in a (for the East) tough Atlantic Division and more than doubled up on Pittsburgh in terms of goal differential. They're rightly perceived as a Stanley Cup favorite.
Detroit Red Wings: It was an up-and-down season for the Red Wings, and for a significant stretch of time, it looked like Detroit would miss the postseason. Injuries, inconsistent goaltending and a host of other maladies all contributed to Detroit's decline. The good news is that the team finally has a measure of health, and it's worth noting that the Red Wings came up big in what were pivotal games against Toronto down the stretch.
Schedule and TV Info
The schedule breaks down as follows:
- Game 1: Friday, April 18, 7:30 p.m.
- Game 2: Sunday, April 20, 3:00 p.m.
- Game 3: Tuesday, April 22, 7:30 p.m.
- Game 4: Thursday, April 24, 8:00 p.m.
- Game 5*: Saturday, April 26, 3:00 p.m.
- Game 6*: Monday, April 28, TBD
- Game 7*: Wednesday, April 30, TBD
Games 1, 3 and 4 will be carried on TSN, NBC SportsNet, NESN and Fox Sports Detroit.
Game 2 and 5* will be carried on TSN and NBC.
Games 6* and 7* will be carried on TSN, NESN and Fox Sports Detroit.
Can Henrik Zetterberg have an impact? The latest news, per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, has Detroit's captain returning to practice but ruled out of the first two games against Boston. According to St. James, it isn't likely that he'll be ready to play before the second round, but teams are often coy about injury timelines, and Zetterberg's return could have a major impact late in the series.
Who plays on the Boston blue line? With the addition of Andrej Meszaros at the trade deadline, Boston helped compensate for the loss of Dennis Seidenberg to injury. The team also created a logjam, one that has seen high-profile players (including star rookie Torey Krug) spend time as healthy scratches.
Players to Watch
Pavel Datsyuk: The veteran pivot is one of the handful of best players in the world, but he only recently returned to the Detroit lineup. The good news for the Red Wings is that he's been immediately productive, with four points and a plus-three rating through six games since coming back. Detroit needs him to be a difference-maker here.
Loui Eriksson: The veteran winger was regarded as one of the NHL's top two-way talents and the key part of the return for star centre Tyler Seguin. He has underperformed this season, in no small part thanks to injury, and has been overshadowed by 23-year-old Reilly Smith, the unsung prospect who also came over in the Seguin trade. The playoffs will give him a great shot at redemption.
Tuukka Rask, Boston: Rask is arguably the best goalie in the NHL today and certainly the front-runner for this year's Vezina Trophy. He posted a .938 save percentage for an underdog Finnish team at this year's Olympics and had a .940 save percentage in last season's playoffs, so he's also been pressure-tested. Backup Chad Johnson has also been excellent this year and could plausibly step in if injury hits.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit: Howard had a brutally tough year as a starter and even briefly was challenged by backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson. His long-term track record suggests he's better than this season, and he's been no slouch in postseasons past. This is a question mark for the Red Wings, but there is reason to hope for a strong performance.
Zdeno Chara: With all due respect to Niklas Kronwall, an excellent defenceman in his own right, Detroit doesn't have a defenceman who can match what Chara brings to the Bruins (very few other teams do, either). Chara's a unique talent, and on a Red Wings team where the top forwards tend to be on the smaller side (and have had their share of health problems), his imposing presence will be a major obstacle to try and overcome.
Boston Bruins Will Win If They Execute
Boston's a better team than Detroit this year. The regular-season results were outstanding, and while the Red Wings are probably better than they've looked (that team has been eaten alive by injury), Boston has been so dominant that they should win this series.
And yet, despite Boston's postseason success in recent years, this is also a team that's had some scares and some big slip-ups. Last season, only an epic collapse by Toronto in the third period of Game 7 allowed the Bruins to survive the first round. In 2011-12, Boston lost in the first round despite being heavily favoured over Washington. In 2009-10, the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead in the second round and went down in seven to the Flyers.
All of those failures and near-failures had much the same core as this Boston team, and for that matter, much the same core as the team that won in 2011. The Bruins have shown in the past that they can win in the playoffs, but they've also shown themselves capable of appalling stretches of play that have cost them dearly or come close to doing so.
Detroit Red Wings Will Win If They Can Win Depth Battles
Detroit has the firepower to go head-to-head with Boston at the top end of its roster. Pavel Datsyuk instantly makes any line he's on a legitimate top unit. Niklas Kronwall is a bona fide No. 1 defenceman. That the Red Wings' top players can saw-off and maybe even win the battle against their Boston counterparts is entirely plausible.
But the Bruins also have ridiculous scoring depth. For Detroit to win this series, it needs its depth players to hold their own or do more than that, scoring goals when the Patrice Bergerons and Zdeno Charas of Boston aren't on the ice.
Detroit's a nice first-round litmus test for the Bruins. This series gives Boston a chance to find themselves early against a veteran-laden opponent with tons of playoff experience, a team that won't panic under pressure and is coached by one of the best in the business.
But it's a very tall order to expect the Red Wings to do more than challenge the Bruins.
Prediction: Boston wins in six games.