Red Wings-Bruins preview
DETROIT — On paper, the Boston Bruins should easily dispatch the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Bruins had a 54-19-9 record, winning the Presidents’ Trophy with 117 points.
The Wings had a 39-28-15 record (93 points), earning the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins scored 261 goals. Only the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks scored more with 267 and 266 goals, respectively.
The Bruins allowed an impressive 177 goals. Only the Los Angeles Kings allowed fewer (174).
The Wings scored 222 goals and allowed 230 for a minus-8 goal differential. They’re the only team in the playoffs with a negative goal differential.
The Bruins were plus-84 in goal differential, best in the league by 27.
But playoff games aren’t played on paper, and Wings coach Mike Babcock is oozing confidence.
"I think we’re complete," he said. "I think we’re way better than people think. I think we’re a hard out."
The development of the young Wings during the regular season has given Babcock this confidence.
"I think we’re actually a harder team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here," Babcock said. "I think we have the ability to play heavy. We have some smaller-type players that have the ability to be physical.
"What sets them (the Bruins) aside from anyone else is (Milan) Lucic and (Zdeno) Chara. They have them, we don’t. We have a lot of big bodies as well."
Everyone is talking about the Bruins and their size and physicality.
The tale of the tape, however reveals there isn’t much difference.
The Wings’ average is 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. The Bruins are at 6-foot-1, 204 pounds.
The Wings have closed that gap because of players like Riley Sheahan (6-2, 212), Tomas Jurco (6-2, 193) and trade-deadline acquisition David Legwand (6-2, 205).
"They’re going to be throwing their bodies around, so I think it’ll help if I get a little more physical," Sheahan said.
This is where the Bruins have more size. Only Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner are under 6 feet tall.
The Wings have six forwards under 6-foot, including Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Darren Helm and Luke Glendening.
So to counteract the Boston forwards’ size, the Wings want to use their speed as a weapon.
"They are hard, big and strong," Tatar said. "If you want to avoid a hit, you have to be fast and move the puck fast, skate a lot, just try to beat the D by your speed."
DETROIT’S X-FACTOR ON OFFENSE
Johan Franzen had a difficult regular season, mostly because a concussion caused him to miss 22 games. But he’s a veteran who seems to come alive during the playoffs.
"I think it’s the Mule’s time of year," Babcock said. "We need him to really dig in and get to the next level for us, and just continue to shoot the puck and play with grit and determination, be on the puck.
"He’s got to be one of our best players if we’re going to have success. He knows that. He’s getting himself ready."
The last three postseasons, Franzen had just seven goals and three assists in 27 games. The three playoff runs before that, he had 31 goals and 28 assists in 51 games.
BOSTON’S X-FACTOR ON OFFENSE
Jarome Iginla finished third on the Bruins in scoring with 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists) in 78 games.
At 36, Iginla is still chasing his first Stanley Cup, and this Bruins team might be his best chance to get it.
"I think we’ve got a really good team and a really good shot," Iginla told NHL.com. "I understand playing and watching over the years that you’ve gotta get some good breaks. But with this group, we’re going to work hard, and there is a lot of experience, guys who have won before and have been close.
"There are a few of us new guys who haven’t, so we’re hungry too."
Any conversation about defensemen starts with the Bruins’ captain, Chara, the 6-foot-9 behemoth. Chara averages 24 minutes, 39 seconds per game and plays against the opponent’s top line.
"I know him like a friend, but he’s not real friendly on the ice," Tatar said. "He’s a big guy, one of the best defensemen in the league."
The Wings have relied on Niklas Kronwall, especially since the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. Kronwall has also had to take on more of a leadership role in the absence of Henrik Zetterberg and more recently, Jonathan Ericsson.
"Since I’ve been here, this team has mostly been a lead-by-example kind of team," Helm said. "Kronner has been more vocal since the first time that I’ve been here. He’s just a steady guy on the back end that keeps everybody calm and composed."
DETROIT’S X-FACTOR ON DEFENSE
Last year, Babcock credited Danny DeKeyser with helping the Wings get in the playoffs.
But DeKeyser played in only two games in the first round before suffering a broken hand.
Despite being just a year removed from Western Michigan, DeKeyser has demonstrated excellent hockey sense and an unflappable nature.
"DK has been one of our best defensemen this year again," Kronwall said. "Ever since he came in, it’s been pretty impressive what he’s been able to, just the way he plays, how poised he is with the puck, the reads he does.
"He’s a big part of this team and logs a lot of minutes."
BOSTON’S X-FACTOR ON DEFENSE
Chara had 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) but was matched by young Torey Krug, the former Michigan State Spartan who had 14 goals and 26 assists.
"The thing with Krug is that he likes to shoot the puck, but in the games against them so far, we’ve been able to make some adjustments to see what their power play is all about," Drew Miller said. "We’ll be well prepared with video and penalty-kill meetings, and we’ll be ready to go.
"It will be a hard challenge, but I think all the penalty-kill guys are excited for a challenge against a power play like theirs."
Tuukka Rask is a lock to be one of the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, with his 2.04 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and 36-15-6 record.
He was second to Minnesota’s Josh Harding (.933) in save percentage but played in 29 more games than Harding. Rask also led the league in shutouts with seven.
That’s why Datsyuk said, in order to beat Rask, you have to "shoot and follow rebounds for second chances."
The Wings will need big bodies like Franzen and Sheahan to park themselves in front of Rask.
"I think the biggest thing is to get in Rask’s eyes and try to not let him see the puck and be a presence in front of him," Sheahan said.
The Bruins have plenty of big guys to put in front of Jimmy Howard, who finished the season with a 21-19-11 record, 2.66 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
In the final regular-season game, against Boston on April 2, Howard kept the Wings in the game while the Bruins sent wave after wave of players into the Wings’ zone.
The Wings will need that type of play from Howard in order to win the series.
"I’m just going to draw on past experiences and be confident I can get the job done for these guys," Howard said. "I’m not going to overwhelm myself.
"I know what I have to do, and I know the way I have to play. It’s just going out there and executing."
Babcock and Bruins coach Claude Julien both have Stanley Cup rings, and after the firing of Barry Trotz in Nashville, they are the two longest-tenured coaches in the league.
Babcock has led the Wings for nine seasons, and Julien has been with the Bruins for seven.
Babcock had Julien on his staff for Team Canada in the Sochi Olympics.
"The team he’s coaching right now is very talented, has great size," Babcock said. "The team he coaches was different than the team he coached in Montreal.
"But what Claude does is, he’s well prepared. He’s a good man, treats people well. He’s a high-end coach, and you know they’ve built something special that they’re good year after year after year."
Julien said that having worked with Babcock doesn’t really give either one of them an advantage.
"I know his tendencies, he knows mine," Julien told NHL.com. "It’s just going to make for a more interesting series."
Although most NHL experts have picked the Bruins to win this series, that doesn’t mean the Wings don’t have a chance.
The Kings proved it two seasons ago, when they won the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed.
"The reality is, you have to play well," Babcock said. "If you look at it, in their shoes, they’ve got to believe they’re in the driver’s seat.
"We believe we’re going to be a tough out, so something’s got to give. It’ll be fun."