The 2013-14 NHL regular season is in the books and the Bruins will begin their quest for their second Stanley Cup in four years on Friday, taking on the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs.
The Red Wings, playing in their first season in the Eastern Conference, finished the year with 93 points and secured the second Wild Card spot in the East, setting them up with an Original Six matchup that hasn’t been seen in the playoffs since 1957.
“They’re a classic puck possession team; you can tell they’re very well coached,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said on Monday. “For a team that moves the puck well, they’re strong on the puck, and that’s a bit of a trickle down from guys like [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk who are among the best puck strippers in the league.”
The Red Wings joined the Atlantic Division before this season and faced the Bruins four times, with Detroit taking three of those meetings, three of which, however, were before the calendar had turned to December.
“They won the season series against us; [we]played really poorly a couple of games,” Chiarelli said. “I’ve watched them quite a bit down the stretch and they’re a good team; they’ve got injuries, [but] they’ve got young guys who are performing well. It’s a different ballgame in the playoffs, but certainly they’ve got speed.”
One reason the Bruins should feel confident helping into their playoff run is the play of their third line, Chiarelli said, which has been phenomenal since the combination of Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson, and Chris Kelly got together due, in some part, to injuries causing other lines to be moved around.
“It’s not common that a team has a real strong third line,” he said. “Often in the playoffs the margins are so thin that the top two lines cancel each other out, so your third line becomes important, you saw that in the year that we won [the Cup].”
“Everyone talks about secondary scoring, that’s what it is; your third line and your fourth line too; we talk a lot about our fourth line. It’s important to have that line going; we’ve seen that line have some success this year and I like the look of that line and it’s been a key to our success.”
Key injuries are no stranger to the Red Wings, however, and they got an important piece back in early April, as Datsyuk returned to the lineup and propelled them to their 23d consecutive playoff appearance. Zetterberg, who was injured playing for Sweden in the Olympics, may also return at some point during the playoffs.
“Getting back a healthy Daytsuk; that makes them more dangerous,” Chiarelli said. “Who knows what will happen with Zetterberg, he’s lurking in the wings, and [Detroit GM] Kenny [Holland] and [Coach Mike Babcock] will probably pull him out at some point.
They’ve had a ton of injuries, and Tatar, Reilly [Smith’s] brother [Brendan], Nyquist, Sheahan, all these kids… They’ve all helped energize them 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.”
The Red Wings have been a model of consistency in the NHL over the past two decades, and have plenty of playoff experience and improving their play when it matters most, something that was not lost on the Bruins GM.
“I have great respect of that organization, great respect for Kenny Holland, Mike Babcock, [and] the Ilitch family.” Chiarelli said. “I’ve followed them for a lot of years… Kenny I got to know him a little better during the Olympics he’s very bright, he looks at things a lot of different ways, A lot of different angles, to get a solution, and you see that in their development, they like developing people in the minors, but they also find players elsewhere in trades and free agents, and that’s what we try to do.
“I have respect for Mike Babcock, he’s a sharp guy… I got to sit in on their coaches’ meetings in advance of the Olympics and during the Olympics, and he’s very, very bright. So I have a lot of respect for them, but now they’re competitors on the other side of the ice, so we’ve got to figure out a way to beat them.”