BOSTON -- For the first time since 1957, the Boston Bruins will face the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because the Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best regular-season record, they will have home-ice advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs. Boston will host Games 1 and 2 of this series on Friday and Sunday.
The Red Wings, an organization drenched in tradition, have earned a postseason berth in 23 consecutive seasons. Detroit beat Boston in three of four games during the regular season. In fact, the Red Wings were the only team to beat the Bruins three times this season.
While the Bruins secured a playoff spot well before the conclusion of the regular season, the Red Wings had to grind and claw their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their late-season surge will help them in their series against Boston.
Under coach Claude Julien, the Bruins have earned a postseason berth seven consecutive seasons and reached the finals twice. Boston won the Cup in 2011 and lost in the finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.
This series should be entertaining. Here’s the scouting report:
Bruins: 54-19-9, 117 points, first in the NHL.
Red Wings: 39-28-15, 93 points, eighth in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the Atlantic Division.
Head-to-head: 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.
Bruins: Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla was consistent the entire season. Krejci led the team with 69 points (19 goals, 50 assists), while Iginla had 30 goals and 31 assists for 61 points. Lucic added 24 goals and 35 assists for 59 points. The Bruins are at their best when Julien can roll four lines consistently and he was able to do that this season. The second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith finished strong. Bergeron should win his second Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, but Boston’s assistant captain also produced on offense (30 goals, 32 assists). Once Loui Eriksson returned to form after dealing with a pair of early-season concussions, he settled in nicely on the third line, along with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. The Bruins learned how important a third line can be when they won the Cup in 2011. With Soderberg centering the line, if the Bruins continue to receive production from that trio they should be in good shape. Then there’s the energy line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. Because of their relentless style of play, Julien is not afraid to put that group on the ice during critical moments.
Red Wings: Detroit has a solid mix of experience and youth on the front end. Veteran Pavel Datsyuk is one of toughest players to defend in the league. It will likely be up to Bergeron’s line to shut him down. Datsyuk recently returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a knee injury. His presence will give Detroit’s offense a boost. Captain Henrik Zetterberg missed half the season after having back surgery in February, but he could return soon. He said Tuesday that he’s hoping to play in the second round, but the Bruins wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up in this series. Detroit is a classic puck-possession team and will use its speed to its advantage. A young core of talent -- Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco -- has energized the Red Wings. Detroit signed veteran Daniel Alfredsson as a free agent last summer and his presence also has proved crucial. He has plenty of playoff experience.
Bruins: When Dennis Seidenberg suffered a season-ending knee injury by tearing both his ACL and MCL in December, most hit the panic button. Without Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara as a defensive pair in the postseason, how would the Bruins advance in the playoffs? To make matters worse, veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid suffered a quad injury in January and hasn’t played since. Both problems were solved quickly when Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug stepped up their games to form a solid back end for Boston. Just in case, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli acquired a pair of veteran blueliners -- Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter -- at the trade deadline to add depth. In this series, Boston’s defense will be tested against a speedy Detroit offense. The Bruins will need to be physical, close the gaps and shut down the Red Wings’ explosive offense.
Red Wings: Similar to the Bruins, Detroit has some youth on its back end with Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff. Red Wings veteran Niklas Kronwall has been potent at both ends of the ice and finished the season with eight goals and 41 assists for 49 points in 79 games.
Bruins: Tuukka Rask should win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender during the regular season. He finished with a 36-15-6 record, a 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 58 games. He also led the league with seven shutouts. After serving as the backup for Tim Thomas during Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup run, Rask helped the Bruins reach the finals last spring before losing to the Blackhawks. Despite playing a career-high 58 games this season, Rask is healthy and primed for the playoffs. He doesn’t lack confidence and will be the backbone for Boston’s Cup run again this spring.
Red Wings: Jimmy Howard battled hand and knee injuries this season and finished with a 21-19-11 record, a 2.66 GAA and a .910 SP. Riddled with injuries to key players for the majority of the season, the Red Wings went with a young defensive core and Howard had to be the backbone as Detroit earned a postseason berth with its grit and determination. The stakes are much higher in the playoffs and the Bruins have the ability to crank up their intensity, so Howard will be tested early and often.
Bruins: Boston proved during its 2011 Cup run that a team can win without a potent power play. In fact, the Bruins’ PP unit was nearly nonexistent that postseason but Boston still won the Cup. With some new personnel, the Bruins’ power play has improved, finishing third in the league with a 21.7-percent success rate. Boston scored 50 goals in 230 power-play opportunities. A big reason for the improvement was Julien’s decision to put Chara in front of the opposition’s net during the man-advantage, while Krug quarterbacked the point. The additions of Iginla, Eriksson, Smith and Soderberg also helped.
Red Wings: With Datsyuk back in the mix, Detroit’s power play should improve. The Red Wings finished the season 17th in this category and converted only 50 goals on 282 power-play chances. Kronwall led the Red Wings in power-play points with 25. Alfredsson followed with 18.
Edge: Bruins. This series has the potential to be a disciplined one and special teams may not play a big factor. Still, the Bruins have the edge.
Bruins: The penalty kill always has been a strength for the Bruins and that did not change this season. Boston finished eighth on the PK, allowing only 43 goals on 263 shorthanded situations. Bergeron, Marchand, Paille and Campbell continue to be the team’s top penalty killers. Marchand tied for the league lead with five shorthanded goals.
Red Wings: Detroit finished the season ranked 14th on the PK. The Red Wings allowed 50 power-play goals on 295 shorthanded situations.
Bruins: Under Julien, the Bruins have reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for seven consecutive seasons. A few times during his tenure in Boston, many wondered if he would be fired, but he has the ability to help his teams prevail and that’s one of the reasons the Bruins have reached the finals twice in a three-year span. Julien takes full advantage of all his resources and keeps an open and honest line of communication with his players.
Red Wings: Mike Babcock has guided the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup finals, winning the Cup in 2008. Similar to Julien, Babcock has the respect of his players and expects the most out of his lineup every game. With significant injuries to veteran players this season, Babcock trusted in a young core of talent and that’s one of the reasons Detroit earned a postseason berth.
Edge: Even. This category is a toss-up. Both coaches have won a Stanley Cup championship and both have the ability to get the most out of his team no matter what the situation. Julien served as an associate coach on Babcock’s staff and helped Team Canada win a gold medal during the Winter Olympics this February in Sochi. Both men know each other well, so this chess match will be an interesting one to watch.
Bruins in six. This should be an interesting and entertaining series. Of all the first-round matchups in the Stanley Cup playoffs, this one could be the most difficult to win. Boston’s reward for winning the Presidents’ Trophy will be one pesky opponent.