The Bruins and Red Wings will face off in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, beginning with Game 1 Friday night (7:30) at TD Garden. After the Bruins finished the regular season as the Presidents’ Trophy winners as the team with the league’s best record, Chiarelli held a pre-playoff news conference Monday morning at TD Garden.
This will be the 23rd consecutive postseason appearance for the Red Wings, and the 16th under longtime GM Ken Holland. Detroit has won three Stanley Cups (1998, 2002, 2008) with Holland at the helm. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Holland have a similar relationship to that of Chiarelli and Bruins coach Claude Julien.
Dressed in a Red Wings-colored checkered shirt, Chiarelli said he’s been following the Wings for a long time and respects the entire organization, especially Holland and Babcock.
“[Holland’s] very bright. He looks at things a lot of different ways, a lot of different angles, to get a solution and then you can see that in their development,” Chiarelli said. “They like developing people in the minors, but they also find players elsewhere in trades and in free agents, and that’s what we try and do.”
Babcock has coached Team Canada to consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014. Julien was part of his staff as an associate coach this past February in Sochi, and Chiarelli served as an adviser for Team Canada.
“I have respect for Mike Babcock,” Chiarelli said. “He’s a really sharp guy. I got to sit in on their coaches’ meetings in advance of the Olympics and during the Olympics, and he’s very, very bright. So I have a lot of respect for them, but now they’re competitors, the other side of the ice, so we’ll figure out a way to beat them.”
Chiarelli admitted it’s going to be a bit strange playing against the Red Wings, in the sense that personnel from both organizations worked hand-in-hand and experienced the high of winning a gold medal together in Sochi.
“In that environment, it’s like you kind of bare all because you want to win,” Chiarelli said. “But there’s not a lot of secrets, it’s how you execute from the GM side to the coaching side. Everyone scouted, over-scouted, scrutinized. You become really good friends in a short period of time.”
In fact, Chiarelli said he had a phone conversation with Holland Monday morning.
“We were kind of partners in crime last time and now we’re competitors,” Chiarelli said.
On the ice, this will be the first time since 1957 the Bruins will face the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs, ending the second-longest postseason drought among Original Six teams. This season, Detroit had a 3-1-0 record against the Bruins.
Boston defeated Detroit 4-1 on Oct. 5, but the Red Wings have won three straight against the Bruins, outscoring them 12-5 in that span. Chiarelli described the Red Wings as a classic puck possession team.
“For a team that skates, a team that moves the puck well, they’re strong on the puck,” he said. “I think that’s a bit of a trickle-down from guys like [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk, who are among the best puck-strippers in the league. I think their defense is good -- they’re a little young, we’re young too on the D. They’ve got a good goalie.
“They won the season series against us and we played really poorly a couple of games. I’ve watched them quite a bit down the stretch and they’re a good team.”
The Red Wings had to grind and claw their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Detroit dealt with injuries to veterans Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery) and Pavel Datsyuk (knee) this season, while relying heavily on the team’s young core of players. Datsyuk recently returned to game action and Zetterberg might not be far behind.
“They're getting back a healthy Datsyuk that makes them more dangerous,” Chiarelli said. “And who knows what will happen with Zetterberg, he's lurking in the wings. Kenny and Babs will probably pull him out at some point. So they had the young guns that helped them get in, and you heard me talk about youthful enthusiasm and energizing a team, and that's what's happened there.”
“They've all helped energize the whole group and when you've got these kids that are fearless and don't really know what the ramifications are, they become dangerous as a group, and that's what they are,” Chiarelli said.
The Bruins learned firsthand last spring how youth can affect a series when defenseman Torey Krug was thrust into action in the second round against the New York Rangers. He quickly made an impact and was one reason why the Bruins won that series and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Red Wings have relied on their youth all season, but once the puck drops on the Stanley Cup playoffs, the stakes are much higher.
“It’s a different ballgame in the playoffs, but certainly they’ve got speed and they’ve got some youth,” Chiarelli said.
This series could also be decided between the pipes.
The Bruins’ Tuukka Rask is a top candidate for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. He finished with a 36-15-6 record, 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 58 games. He also led the league with seven shutouts. Rask was one of the reasons the Bruins reached the Cup finals last spring and there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.
At the other end of the ice is the Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard. He battled both hand and knee injuries this season and finished with a 21-19-11 record, 2.66 GAA and a .910 SP.
This series has the potential to be a disciplined matchup. It’s almost unfair that the best team in the league is dealt such a tenacious opponent in the first round. Either way, there’s great respect between the organizations and it figures to be an exciting series.
Just ask Chiarelli.