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Red Wings are worthy of respect, but Bruins have become NHL's model franchise

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Praying for puck luck ... well, that's never a bad idea this time of year.

Hockey is foremost a game of incredible skill, but in win-or-play-golf scenarios, the outcome is often settled by the bounce of a skittish puck. It is a game of bounces, and there's no shame in requesting that a few crucial bounces align with your rooting interests.

Yet the unyielding tension of the Stanley Cup playoffs inherently encourages even sane fans to take the crossing-your-fingers stuff too far, to put their faith in karma and destiny. It's too much foolishness.

The true faith, of course, should be dedicated toward more fundamental concepts: a confident, sharp goalie, three talented and diversely skilled lines (maybe four), and a shutdown defensive pairing (or two).

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I'm sure this skepticism of the visceral will make some of the superstitious among you cringe -- yes, especially you, toting around that ancient, "lucky" John Wensink hockey card in your wallet -- as the Bruins begin their journey toward June. But there is no risk of riling up the fickle hockey gods since, you know, there are no such thing as hockey gods. I mean, obviously, other than No. 4.

Maybe the rules of superstition suggest we should wait for the Bruins' first-round playoff series with the long-admired Detroit Red Wings to be complete before making such a declaration.. But it's the truth now, and it should be acknowledged now.

The Bruins, not the Red Wings, have become the model franchise in the NHL. And the exclamation point on that sentence will be provided by this series, which starts Friday night at TD Garden.

Make no mistake, the Wings are worthy of the respect Bruins fans are affording them. Much of that is due to their remarkable success over the last quarter-century, give or take a season or two.

The Red Wings have made the postseason 23 straight years. They have won six Western Conference titles since 1994-95 -- whose idea was it to move them to the East, anyway? -- and in four of those seasons they went on to win the Stanley Cup, most recently in 2007-08.

This season wasn't their finest by their usual standards -- they merely went 39-28-15, good for fourth place in the Atlantic Division, despite injuries to several key players along the way. The great Pavel Datsyuk missed two of the four regular-season Bruins-Wings clashes, and Henrik Zetterberg missed eight weeks after back surgery.

Yet their remarkable knack for churning out skilled players who thrive in their system provided high-caliber help yet again, with former Maine Black Bear Gustav Nyquist emerging to score 28 goals in 57 games.

My colleague Chris Gasper called the Red Wings "the Spurs of the NHL" on Boston Sports Live yesterday. It's a fitting nod to what they do. It also means they are to hockey what the Patriots are to the NFL. They are always in the hunt, and very often atop the lists of the teams you do not want to play.

Which is the fun irony of this whole matter and matchup: This time around, they are not the Opponent No One Wants To Play. For once, they are playing that team..

The Red Wings are deserving of all respect. But the Bruins? They are deserving of more. They won the Stanley Cup three years ago against a Vancouver team that has since disintegrated. They lost in the Cup Finals to a mighty Blackhawks last June after a spirited run that included an evisceration of the Penguins.

While the games that determine such legacies are still ahead of them, it is possible that this Bruins team is superior to any of recent vintage. They won the President's Trophy for the first time since 1990 with 117 points, scoring 84 more goals than they allowed.

They are deeper at forward, with Patrice Bergeron emerging as a Hart Trophy candidate, Jarome Iginla replacing a lesser version of himself in Nathan Horton, the emergence of Carl Soderberg, and David Krejci prepping for his annual superstar-turn in the postseason. Zdeno Chara leads a lockdown defense in front of goalie Tuukka Rask, and Claude Julian maintains a deft coaching touch, especially during this time of the year.

They are the better team -- deeper offensively, stronger and more physical defensively unless Niklas Lidstrom comes out of retirement, and with a more dependable goalie.

And they they will prove it all.

No, it won't be easy. The Wings did win three of four matchups this year, including one of Boston's rare clunkers, a 6-1 Detroit win on November 27 in which Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi didn't even play.

The Bruins' lone win was by a 4-1 score in the second game of the season; it was so long ago that Jordan Caron was one of the three stars.

And it won't be easy because they are the Wings. Accomplished, respected, skilled and decorated. They wear that sweater with pride. They have a lot going for them. still.

Just not as much as the Bruins, their successor as hockey's model franchise.

Boston in six. No karma necessary. Though a good bounce or two is always welcome.