The Boston Bruins won 54 games and collected 117 points. They clinched the Eastern Conference’s top spot with a week left in the season. They won their first Presidents’ Trophy in almost 25 years. And their reward for all of that? They get the red-hot Detroit Red Wings in the first round.
When it comes to first-round playoff opponents, there are other teams the Bruins probably would have liked to see instead of the Wings. Such is life in sports. The Bruins should be favorites in just about any series they play this spring, but there’s no denying that Detroit will present a very difficult test for the B’s.
The NHL did away with the 1 through 8 seeding this season, but the Wings are technically the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference. They are far from a traditional No. 8, though. This Red Wings team has all you can ask for when it comes to the playoffs. They have a proven system with a hockey mastermind running the show in Mike Babcock. They have battle-tested veterans. They have a legitimate superstar in Pavel Dastyuk. They have a reliable goalie in Jimmy Howard who is playing some of his best hockey as the regular season came to a close. And they also have team speed, which is something that gives the Bruins fits from time to time.
The Wings have also had the Bruins’ number this season. The new Atlantic Division rivals met four times this season, and the Red Wings won three of them, including a 3-2 victory on April 2. It’s also worth noting, however, that three of those four games came in the first two months of the season. Both teams are different now, especially the Bruins, who took their game to an entirely new level with a dominant month of March that solidified the B’s as one of the league’s best team. Still, if there’s any sort of seed of doubt, it was planted with those three wins during the regular season.
There are plenty of matchups that will be monitored closely, but the perhaps the most telling battle will come down to style of play. The Bruins are bigger and stronger than the Red Wings, and if they can keep Detroit in front of them and slow the Wings down, that should set up the B’s very nicely. However, if the Wings are able to get some space and utilize that speed through the neutral zone and create some rushes, they will have a very real chance at winning the series. The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to prove that late in the first round against Boston last year before the Bruins’ historic Game 7 comeback win.
One thing is for sure, though. The first playoff meeting between these Original Six clubs since 1957 should be one of the best first-round series in the entire league.