The Boston Bruins have defeated the Detroit Red Wings four games to one. At times it was a tighter series than that, but with another bounce of the puck, it could have been a sweep. The Bruins now get the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.
The Red Wings continued their streak of 23 years in the playoffs, but this was by no means a Red Wings team like the ones that won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008. They still had Zetterberg. They still had Datsyuk. They still had Kronwall. They still had Franzen. They had a lot of youth and inexperience, too. They fought the good fight, but they ran into a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011, and was in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013.
The 2013-14 Red Wings reminded me a lot of the 2007-08 Bruins. The B’s had been bad in the first two seasons after the 2004-05 lockout, but with the hirings of Claude Julien behind the bench and Cam Neely in the front office, the B’s took a big step in the right direction. That team had a good mix of youth and veteran presence, and got strong goaltending from some guy named Tim Thomas, who would win two Vezina Trophies, an Olympic Silver Medal, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and a Stanley Cup before his tenure in Boston was over. Peter Chiarelli had more veteran leadership in the form of Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, and Marc Savard to go with the aging Bruins mainstays Glen Murray and P.J. Axelsson. They also got good contributions from Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Phil Kessel (who was traded to Toronto in 2009 for the draft picks that became Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, and Jared Knight), and Mark Stuart. Patrice Bergeron missed most of that season due to a severe concussion he suffered in a game against Philadelphia. I still can’t help but wonder how far that team might have gotten if Bergy was healthy in the playoffs.
The 2008 playoff run for the B’s was the start of the run they have been on the past few years. They were the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, and matched up against a #1 Montreal team that nobody in Boston expected them to beat. The Habs were really good that year. In a year when the Celtics won their 17th championship and their first in my lifetime, the Bruins landed back on the map in Boston. That team had a lot to be proud of, and so does this Wings team. It’s a disappointing end for a guy like Daniel Alfredsson who does not have that many years left to win a Cup, much like Murray and Axelsson were in 2008, but there is a lot for Detroit to be excited about with Nyquist, Smith, and Abdelkader joining the party. Mike Babcock will be able to coach those players up and have them learn from this season, much the way Claude did here in Boston.
For the Bruins, it’s good to finish a first round series in less than seven games for the first time since 2010. These are series the Bruins should win, and while they did finish the job in 2011 against Montreal and 2013 against Toronto, there is always a chance that you will fall short like they did against the Washington Capitals in 2012 if you’re taking it to sudden death over time of a series deciding seventh game. The Bruins and their fans have know for a few days now that Montreal is waiting for them when the series is over, as the Habs disposed of the Tampa Bay Lightning in a four game sweep. It was reassuring to see the Bruins bounce back from a tough 1-0 defeat in Game 1, and to overcome a 2-0 deficit in Game 4. The scoring has come from many sources, and young players like Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Justin Florek, and Jordan Caron have stepped up and put pucks in the net. While the veteran core of Chara, Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, and Johnny Boychuk is still there from the 2011 team, it looks a lot different with the young players contributing who were not there before.
The anchor of the Bruins’ success, much like last year, has been goaltender Tuukka Rask. I’ve been a Rask fan since the first time I saw this video from his Providence days five years ago, and was excited when the B’s parted ways with Manny Fernandez to make room for Tuukka behind Tim Thomas. He had an excellent rookie year in 2009-10 and even beat Thomas out for the starting job in the playoffs, that was forgotten by many because of how that season ended (I’d really rather not talk about it again), and because of the historically great season that Timmy had in 2010-11. When Tim Thomas achieved cult hero status in Boston for bringing the Stanley Cup home for the first time since 1972, Rask gained himself many critics and detractors within the fan base for being the young replacement, when he had really been the plan for the future all along. Last year he shut a lot of those critics up, but the Bruins couldn’t finish the job, but it was enough to earn a big payday last summer. After a great showing in Sochi this February, helping Team Finland medal by shutting out Team USA in the Bronze Medal Game, and putting together a phenomenal regular season and has allowed just six goals through five playoff games. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was still playing for a contract.
There is still a long road ahead for the Bruins, but knocking off the Red Wings was an important first step.
The first weekend of the hockey playoffs is in the books, and it shows us just how close the teams that make the playoffs are with each other. The Boston Bruins won the President’s Trophy for being the best team in the regular season, but defeating the #8 seed Detroit Red Wings has been no easy task. The Wings struggled to get into the playoffs, but that was because they lost key players like Pavel Datsyuk for a long time in the regular season. Now, Datsyuk is back, and scored the only goal of Game 1 in Boston on Friday night, and the series between Boston and Detroit feels a lot like the hard fought series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks than a series between the #1 and #8 teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins evened the series 1-1 with a 4-1 win this afternoon, but one thing is for sure: nothing is handed to you in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can be the best team, but you have to prove it. The President’s Trophy is given, whether you want it or not, but the Stanley Cup must be taken, and sometimes the toughest team to beat is the one you see in the first round. There is no real advantage to being the President’s Trophy winner. It’s just another reason for teams to want to beat you. If the President’s Trophy winner wins, they were supposed to. If they lose, they choked. At this level, everyone can play, everyone can hit, and emotions run high. Everyone wants it a lot, but it comes down to who wants it more.
The B’s have a tendency to make it really hard for themselves in the first round of the playoffs. Going into this tournament, the Black and Gold have gone to a sudden death overtime of a Game 7 to decide who advances in the first round. In 2011, they fell 0-2 to the arch-nemesis Montreal Canadiens after two games in Boston, but battled back, stealing two games in Montreal before winning Game 7 off the stick of Nathan Horton and riding that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup. In 2012, they did not fare as well, falling in OT to a Washington Capitals team that wasn’t even trying to score. In 2013, they needed late 3rd period heroics from Patrice Bergeron just to get to overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs, another team they should have beaten sooner than Game 7, before Bergeron sent the Boston crowd home on a high note with an OT goal, resulting in one of my earliest posts on this blog. As a fan of this team, it’s hard to go through the first round of the playoffs and not be really nervous. One bounce of the puck the wrong way, and there might not be a 2011 Stanley Cup Champions banner in the rafters of the TD Garden. One bounce of the puck the wrong way last year, and the roster and coaching staff might look a lot different than it does right now. That’s a dangerous way to live, but that’s hockey.
Last weekend, I went to the B’s last home game of the regular season with one of my best friends. It was a game against Buffalo, and for Fan Appreciation Day, they handed out team pictures, but one of the heroes from this weekend didn’t even make the team picture. Justin Florek, a 23 year old forward, was called up from the AHL Providence Bruins this week because of an injury to Daniel Paille. After the B’s were shut out by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard in Game 1, Florek put the B’s on the board early in the 1st Period by capitalizing on a mistake by Howard. Forward depth was a concern after Paille was injured against Buffalo last weekend, but Florek is proving his worth to the Bruins right now. It reminds me a lot of the contributions Torey Krug made for the Bruins last spring when Andrew Ference got hurt, before people knew how good he was. He spent all year in Providence, but he’s making the most of his chance with Boston in the most important games of the season.
There is still a long way to go, but my favorite go-to topic is Bruins hockey. It’s not always pretty, but hopefully there will be a lot more Bruins hockey for me to write about this spring.