BOSTON — Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli knows a thing or two about the Detroit Red Wings, both from following the NHL’s model franchise from afar and working with its brain trust in the past. Whether or not that makes a difference when Boston and Detroit begin their first-round playoff series Friday night is unknown.
The Bruins and Red Wings will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1957, but there’s an incredible amount of familiarity between the teams. They’re two of the NHL’s iconic franchises and have been among the league’s best for quite some time. There’s also the fact that Chiarelli, Bruins head coach Claude Julien, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and Detroit head coach Mike Babcock all worked together in February as part of Hockey Canada’s gold medal-winning effort at the Winter Olympics.
Chiarelli said Monday at a news conference that his attention to the Red Wings increased as the regular season started to wind down. They’re now firmly in the Bruins’ crosshairs, and Chiarelli knows it won’t necessarily be easy for his team to get through Detroit.
Much of the battle will revolve around puck possession, as Boston and Detroit are two of the best 5-on-5 puck-possessing teams. According to ExtraSkater.com, the Red Wings were right around the top 10 when it came to 5-on-5 play this season, a feat even more impressive given all of the injuries Detroit had to work around.
“I think they’re a classic puck possession team,” Chiarelli said. “You can tell they’re very well-coached. For a team that skates, for a team that moves the puck well, they’re strong on the puck. I think that’s a bit of a trickle-down from the guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk who are among the best puck-strippers in the league.”
The Bruins don’t need to look any farther than their 2013-14 season to see how good the Red Wings can be. Detroit won three of four games against its new division rival this season, although three of those games came in the first two months of the season, while the Red Wings’ most recent win over the Bruins on April 2 came against a Boston team that was missing two regulars in Jarome Iginla and Kevan Miller.
“We’ve played really poorly a couple of games (against Detroit),” Chiarelli added. “I watched them quite a bit down the stretch. They’re a good team. They’ve got injuries, they’ve got young guys that are performing well. It’s a different ballgame in the playoffs. Certainly they’ve got some speed and some youth.”
That youth certainly will be put to the test in a way that hasn’t happened yet. While the Red Wings will play in the postseason for the 23rd consecutive season, a good chunk of the roster doesn’t have a ton of playoff experience. The youth movement sparked the Red Wings during the regular season, but only time will tell what kind of effect it has in the second season. Chiarelli isn’t expecting it to be a deterrent.
“So they had the young guns that helped them get in, and you heard talk about youthful enthusiasm and energizing a team, and that’s what’s happened there,” Chiarelli said. “(The young players) have 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.”