Red Wings eager to take on big, bad Bruins
Updated On: Apr 18 2014 01:29:07 PM EDT
Game 1: Friday at Boston, 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
It's a challenge Detroit coach Mike Babcock is eagerly accepting.
"They think they're in the driver's seat and we believe we're gonna be a tough out. So, something's gotta give. Should be fun," he said after Tuesday's practice.
The Bruins (54-19-9) grabbed the President's Trophy this year for the first time since the 1989-90 season. They are looking to return to the Stanley Cup finals for a second straight year and third time since 2011 when they won. Boston lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games last year.
The Atlantic Division champs are led by captain Zdeno Chara and an experienced core group. They had six players score 50 or more points this season.
Yet, in a season which Boston pretty much dominated, there was a team that seemed to have their number. The Bruins ended up on the losing end of a 4-game season series with the Red Wings (39-28-15), who took it 3-1.
Boston clinched their spot in the playoffs long ago but Detroit has spent the past month battling to secure a 23rd consecutive trip to the postseason.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall said his team has been in playoff mode for a while.
"That was the only way for us to be able to get a chance to get in," he said.
He's impressed with Boston's team play.
"They just do it right. They have four lines ... and they all seem to have the, you know, team-first mentality," said Kronwall. "They don't have any big egos. Everyone plays within the system, and they play a very well-structured game. They're well-coached and have very good depth on their team. Great goaltending."
They may not have big egos, but the Bruins do have some big players, such as the 6-foot-9 Chara.
"I don't think they are happy that they got to play us," said Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar, who knows Chara well. "I know (Chara) like a friend and he's not very friendly on the ice."
He and Chara are from the same hometown in Slovakia. They most recently played together in Sochi.
"(Chara's) one of the best defensemen in the league, that's what he does. He's a really strong guy and he has really good skill," said Tatar, who called Chara one of the best leaders he's ever played with.
Brendan Smith knows someone on the Bruins quite well, too -- his younger brother Reilly Smith, who tallied 20 goals and 31 assists in a breakout season.
"For us to both be able to share the ice in a playoff series is really exciting," said Brendan.
Physical vs. finesse
"Big, bad Bruins" isn't just a fun exercise in alliteration. It's the reputation Boston has earned throughout the league. They are a strong, physical team that likes to wear down opponents with heavy forechecking and tight defense.
But with players such as David Kejci (19 goals, 50 assists), Patrice Bergeron (30 goals, 32 assists), Jarome Iginla (30 goals, 31 assists), Brad Marchand (25 goals, 28 assists), Milan Lucic (24 goals, 35 assists) and Smith, it appears the Bruins have the complete package. Finesse is very much a part of their game.
Meanwhile, the young Red Wings are known for a speedy, puck-possession style of play. Budding star Gustav Nyquist, who leads the Wings with 28 goals, knows what to expect.
"It's going to be a physical matchup against Boston, for sure, but we'll be ready for it," he said.
Rask vs. Howard
Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask posted 36 wins, a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage this season. He shined with Team Finland at Sochi, helping his home country secure a bronze medal.
He already has a Stanley Cup (2011) with Boston when he was backing up Tim Thomas. However, he hasn't done it as the team's starter.
Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard struggled with injuries for a big part of this season. His numbers aren't as impressive (21 wins, 2.66 GAA, .910 save percentage), but Howard said he is more confident going into the playoffs this year.
"I look forward to this time of year. I can't wait to get on the ice Friday," he said.
The Red Wings and Bruins haven't met in the playoffs since 1957. The Bruins won that best-of-seven series, 4-1.
This is the first time Detroit will compete in the Eastern Conference playoffs since 1978 when it was known as the Prince of Wales Conference. That year, Detroit lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 4 games to 1, in the quarterfinals.