Oh, and &^$# you, NHL.
For the first time in more than a half-century, the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings will meet in the NHL playoffs beginning Thursday night at the Garden, and it’s safe to say that the matchup is not the one the NHL’s best regular season team was hoping for.
It coulda been the Blue Jackets. It coulda been the Flyers.
No. The hockey gods left the Presidents Trophy winners with one of the three most-threatening Eastern Conference squads (Montreal, Pittsburgh) to the Bruins’ long-term Stanley Cup hopes to face in the first round, leaving Claude Julien staring into the abyss of the postseason schedule like Indiana Jones into the Well of Souls, with the slithering threat of what lay ahead showing its face in the dim light.
“Detroit. Why did it have to be Detroit?”
That deal was sealed courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 3-2 win at the Florida Panthers’ Saturday night, when Nathan Horton’s (out six weeks with an abdominal injury) club clinched the No. 7 seed, locking the Red Wings in at No. 8. The Bruins were only 1-3 against the Red Wings during the regular season, outscored by a total of 13-12, but it’s indeed the Red Wings’ pedigree and talent that is most concerning in the franchise’s first run at the Eastern Conference title. As successful as the Bruins’ season was, the Wings were the only team to beat the Bruins three times in regulation, twice without Pavel Datsyuk. Oh, and did we mention he’ll be back for this series, quite possibly along with Jonathan Ericsson and Henrik Zetterberg, all of whom are recovering from various injuries?
Apparently, that’s what you get for winning the conference. Have fun.
“There are lots of challenges, let’s be serious, it’s Boston,” Wings defenseman Brendan Smith said. “They have scoring, they have physicality, they have puck-moving, they have arguably one of the best goalies, they have the makeup for a Stanley Cup team. So does everybody else but they might have it more than any other team because of their physicality that is stronger than other teams.
“Obviously we’ve played them well, we play a system that does well against Boston and it’s something that we have to stick to. If we get away from that or get hindered in any sense, then we’ll struggle. We have to play our system and play them hard. I think the biggest thing for us is puck-possession, no turnovers. That’s a big thing because they will put the puck in the back of our net. You look at their top two lines with Krejci’s line and Bergeron’s line and it’s 1A and 1B situations and we have to be able to shut them down.”
The two teams last faced off on April 2, and the Red Wings’ 3-2 win had to expose plenty of concern over a potential playoff matchup in the Bruins’ camp. It’s no secret that the Montreal Canadiens remain a realistic threat to the Bruins, despite Boston’s recent success at batting the speed of the Habs, in this year’s bracket. So, from a Bruins’ perspective, it was a bit disheartening to watch Detroit forward Gustav Nyquist score the game-winner earlier this month, displaying a dash that made Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask look like tree stumps chasing a jackrabbit. Then again, the Wings are only 10-11 since the beginning of March, a period during which the Bruins only had one of the most successful winning streaks in franchise history.
Oh, make no mistake, the Bruins should win the series. It’s just not going to be the “bye” that Columbus might have presented.
Still, there’s the possibility that the Bruins could have to endure and adjust to both Detroit and Montreal (against whom Boston was a combined 2-5-1 this season) in the first two rounds, leaving the Bruins, should they survive, scrambling to return to their game plan, so successful against the Penguins in last year’s Eastern Conference final.
Oh, and the Bruins haven’t won a game at Joe Louis Arena since 2007. Two thousand and seven. Jacoby Ellsbury was still a minor league ballplayer in the Red Sox’ farm system.
So, there’s that too.
Luckily for Boston, the bulk of the games for this series, for all the series will be on Causeway Street, beginning Thursday, and likely continuing Saturday afternoon. The full NHL postseason slate will released Sunday evening, after the final day of regular season action.
The Red Sox escaped Detroit last fall to get a chance at St. Louis. That could be a familiar script in the NHL postseason for the Bruins, with a Montreal and Pittsburgh possibly mixed in as well before the Blues (or, the Blackhawks, in a rematch) arrive at the TD Garden late next month.
For openers, it could have been better, and it couldn’t have been worse. But hey, Presidents Trophy, an honor that will only not look like compensatory unless the Bruins win the big one.
“After [Sunday] everything is going to start from zero,” Chara said. “[Presidents’ Trophy] is something that we certainly are proud of. We worked really hard this season and we wanted to play as best as we could and I think we accomplished that. But after tomorrow, it’s going to go back to square one and no matter what you do in the regular season you still have to play a certain way to be successful. It’s something that for sure you want to follow up on but you can’t be thinking now that you are going to get more room or more respect. It’s going to be, I think, even tougher.”
Eat well before Thursday. The ribcage where your stomach will be residing for the next month-plus will thank you for it.