It’s that time of year when my focus is committed to the Stanley Cup playoffs. My Twitter feed is occupied by tweets from similar-minded folks, and conversations become lively debates.
During a recent playoffs conversation with a friend, who happens to be a former player, I told him that the Detroit Red Wings could beat the Boston Bruins in the first round. He responded, “Stop it — they won’t.”
And he’s right. Boston will beat Detroit in the opening round, which starts Friday on NESN.
The Red Wings have overcome so much adversity this season. My respect (and hockey crush) for Mike Babcock continues to grow. Decimated by injuries, with 418 man games lost, Detroit saw stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk play just 89 games between them. The injury issue forced the Red Wings to forgo their longstanding tradition of player development (Detroit is known for seasoning its players in the AHL longer than most organizations). They had no other option than to call up prospects this season, but luckily for hockey fans in Motown, the kids are all right.
The quartet of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco — who have appeared in 208 games replacing injured veterans — has changed the disposition of the Red Wings and made Detroit a younger, quicker team. Nyquist, the 23-year-old University of Maine product, recorded 28 goals and 20 assists in 57 games.
The infusion of youth into Detroit’s lineup helped propel the team into the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season, with wins in nine of its last 15 games.
Entering the postseason, the Red Wings already have a healthy Datsyuk back, and Zetterberg potentially could return mid-series. However, this still won’t be enough for Detroit to beat Boston.
Here are few reasons why:
1. The Bruins excelled in the regular season, capturing the Presidents’ Trophy for the second time in franchise history. The award is downplayed but has merit. The Bruins won 54 games for a reason — they’re good, and that isn’t changing just because the 82-game regular season is done.
2. Depth and experience are two major keys to go deep in the postseason, and the Bruins have both. Head coach Claude Julien has the ability to roll four lines and has done a masterful job integrating the team’s young defensemen. Meanwhile, many of the Bruins core members are playing the best hockey of their careers.
3. Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask are all expected to be up for NHL hardware.
4. Weaknesses from a year ago have transformed into strengths. The Bruins boast a third line of Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson that has provided secondary scoring. A potent third line was key in the Bruins’ successful Stanley Cup run in 2011, when it consisted of Kelly, Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder. An anemic power play that was ranked fourth-to-last in the league last season has been retooled. Different personnel and some new setups on the man advantage have revamped a power-play unit that is now the third-best in the NHL.
While anything can happen in the playoffs, and four of the last eight Presidents’ Trophy winners have lost in the first round, the Bruins will beat the Red Wings.