Before we get to some thoughts on the Bruins’ first round matchup against the Red Wings, it’s necessary to thank the band of black and gold for their performance this season. Claiming the President’s Trophy is a nice accomplishment, though it becomes somewhat of a mockery if playoff results don’t resemble those of the regular season. The Bruins deserve thanks because they distracted the Boston sports scene from the Celtics all winter.
We knew it’d be a bad year for the Celts, but there would have been a truly dreadful aura surrounding Causeway Street this season had the Bruins not been such an entertaining, physical powerhouse for the past six months. Thank you, Boston Bruins, for getting us through the winter in scintillating fashion.
Your reward? A playoff road taking you through the two teams in the conference who play you the toughest.
The Bruins were great this season and deserved the President’s Trophy as the league’s best regular season team. They’re the heavy favorites in the Eastern Conference, as they should be. What’s more, as a pessimistic Boston fan, I’m okay with their favorite status because, hey, someone has to be the favorite, so why not the best team?
Much of the talk I’ve heard this week has been “Bruins in 5” or “Bruins are too deep for Detroit.” The latter may be true, but it by no means translates to a Bruins cakewalk into the second round. While retaining full confidence in the Bruins, it’s necessary to point out that the “Don’t worry, the Bruins have it, no question” crowd is completely delusional.
Some thoughts on the matchup and the road facing Boston:
–Philly and Columbus would have rightfully engendered “Bruins in 5” talk from this space, as those teams lack the talent and/or experience to keep up with Boston.
–It’s not just the name “Red Wings” that makes them dangerous. It’s their mix of youth, speed, talent, experience, and coaching. It’s names like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Tomas Jurco.
–Expect this series to have the same respect factor as the 2013 Finals. All we heard going into that series was that the Bruins and Blackhawks were similar teams in their balance, grit, generally clean play, discipline, and work ethic. You’ll hear the same about the Red Wings, who, on top of the aforementioned likenesses, also share with the Blackhawks a great name, classic sweater, and Original Six heritage. Unless a younger Red Wing emerges as a pest, a la Andrew Shaw for Chicago, this should be a relatively clean series.
–Back to matchups for a second. Other than the Penguins (though not after last year), the two teams in the East that give Boston the most trouble are Detroit and Montreal. Boston plays Detroit in the first round. Should they advance, they’ll play Montreal in the second round. I offered nothing in the way of an official prediction other than a Twitter proclamation, but the Lightning are overrated, without their star goalie, and unequipped to beat the Canadiens. I know the Bruins don’t mind having a tougher road, and they’re the type of team who’ll feed off a rivalry series. Still, it’s easy to imagine a Columbus-Tampa road being much, much kinder. But it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs and nothing comes easy, so maybe it’s a moot point.
–Speaking of potential matchups, here’s the absolute worst case scenario for Boston fans. The Bruins lose to the respected Red Wings. The Red Wings lose to the hated Canadiens. The Canadiens square off with the obnoxious Penguins for the right to play in the Finals. Oh, and for good measure, Tyler Seguin’s Stars also make a deep run, leading the Chiarelli bashers to come out of the woodwork (even though they are and will likely remain wrong about the Seguin trade).
–I’ve heard the refrain “The Red Wings are petrified to play the Bruins.” Fair point, but playoff series do exist where both teams aren’t thrilled with their draw. Just look at the Blues-Blackhawks series. These are two of the five best teams in the league and they’re facing each other in the first round. I don’t think either is petrified, but I’d bet both are thinking “We really had to get them in the FIRST round?” While not to the extent of those teams’ disbelief, I have similar feelings about the Bruins facing the Wings. Again, it’s not a lack of confidence, it’s just not an ideal matchup in the first round.
–Saying “Bruins in 5…but they’ll be five hard fought games” makes zero sense and actually makes me angry. If you think they’ll be hard fought, one goal games, then you need to predict 6 or 7 games. You only predict 5 games if you think they won’t be close. One goal games are often dependent on luck, bounces, referees, etc. It’s counterintuitive to predict a 5 game series with all one goal games.
–As complete and loaded as the Bruins are, the defense still worries me. If it’s a lineup of Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk, McQuaid, Krug, Miller, they’re basically impenetrable. But they’re going to replace Seidenberg and McQuaid with some combination of Hamilton, Meszaros, and Bartkowski. If I’m Claude Julien, I bench Bartkowski, who’s most prone to turnovers and miscues. Boston hockey guru Dale Arnold predicted this morning that Bartkowski will be scratched, which is a good thing. I’ve had nightmares all week about Nyquist racing down the ice uncontested because Bartkowski bungled yet another puck in the neutral zone.
–Then again, Detroit’s defense gives me some peace of mind. They’ve got a sturdy anchor in Niklas Kronwall, but will likely be without veteran Jonathan Ericsson. As young and vulnerable as Boston’s defensemen can be at times, Detroit has unproven guys like Danny Dekeyser, Brian Lashoff, and Brendan Smith manning their blue line. It says here that this series will be a bit more wide open than people are expecting. The Bruins tend to engage in rock fights, but with both teams high on offensive fire power and middling on defensive experience, we could see a few more goals than most expect.
–Okay, devil’s advocate time is over. The Bruins won the President’s Trophy and have all the makings of a team built for a long playoff run. I’m not in the prediction business, but I will say that despite all the potential Boston road blocks I just put up, I feel good about their chances against Detroit. More importantly, after watching seven terrific games through the first two nights of playoff action, it’s about damn time we get to see the Bruins go to work.