It’s finally here. There is nothing better than playoff hockey in all of sports. That’s my opinion, but it’s so true that it might as well be a fact. We’re in for two months of intense games where every team wants it the same amount. It’s going to be great, so buckle up!
My beloved Boston Bruins were a team on a mission from god during the regular season, trying to erase the painful memory of seeing Chicago raise the Cup on Boston’s ice last year. For their efforts, they were given the President’s Trophy, which is awarded annually to the best team in the NHL regular season. As a result, they get to play a team that hasn’t missed the playoffs in my lifetime in the first round. Over the last twenty-four years, the Detroit Red Wings have replaced the Montreal Canadiens as the model franchise for professional hockey. Led at first by captain Steve Yzerman, then captain Nicklas Lidstrom, and now captain Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings have been as consistent as they are skilled. The Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008, and had more star players in that time than anyone. Yzerman, Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Brendan Shanahan, Mike Vernon, Chris Osgood, Domenik Hasek, Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, and the list goes on.
This is the first time since the 1950s, when there were only six teams in the NHL, that the Bruins and Red Wings have met in the playoffs. Since then, the two franchises have combined for seven Stanley Cup Championships, and are the two most successful NHL franchises based in the United States. With the Nashville Predators parting ways with Barry Trotz earlier this week, Detroit’s Mike Babcock and Boston’s Claude Julien are the two longest tenured coaches in the NHL, and they have both taken their current teams to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, and have each won the whole thing once. Babcock and Julien also coached Team Canada together in Sochi two months ago, so they should be very familiar with each other’s systems.
Both teams have an interesting combination of youth and experience. Boston has more players on their roster with their name on the Stanley Cup, but they have also gotten significant contributions from young players like Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, and Riley Smith. While Detroit still has veterans from the 2008 Stanley Cup winning team like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary, and Niklas Kronwall, they are going through a bit of a youth movement with a lot of players who were playing for the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins a year ago. Gustav Nyquist seems to be the best young player for the Wings so far.
Both teams also have an aging veteran future Hall of Fame forward who is hungry to win a championship before they retire. The Bruins acquired longtime Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla last summer right around the same time the Wings signed longtime Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. I have written about both players this season, and I thought it would be interesting to see how far they can get in this playoff tournament, but I had no idea they would be meeting in the first round. The B’s tried trading Matt Bartkowski to acquire Iginla at the trade deadline in 2013, but Iggy chose Pittsburgh over Boston. The Bruins are back in the playoffs a year later and once again Iggy is looking to make a run at the Cup. This is why he signed with Boston, and this is why Alfie signed with Detroit. This is playoff hockey, and this is as good as it gets.
The Wings rely on speed and skill while the Bruins rely on physicality and defense. Both teams have good young goalies, but I give the Bruins an edge with Tuukka Rask over Detroit’s Jimmy Howard.
The games don’t start for the B’s and Wings until Friday, but I’m already stressing out about it. Let’s go! Start the playoffs now! Now! Now!