BOSTON (CBS) — This isn’t your typical matchup between a one seed and an eight seed.
Normally, the eighth seed in the playoffs is a team that just barely made the postseason, eking out some wins in the final weeks of the season and being happy to just make the field of eight.
Yet these Red Wings are far from content to just qualify for the playoffs, and they should be able to give the Bruins all they can handle in this first-round series.
That much was clear in the regular season, when the Red Wings beat the Bruins in three of the four meetings between them. The Wings outscored the B’s 13-9 in those four games, with most of the damage coming in a 6-1 thumping in November.
Of course, what happened in November won’t have much bearing when the puck drops on this series on Friday night. In fact, given how evenly matched these teams are, there’s no way to properly predict what will happen. There is only a near-guarantee that a thoroughly entertaining series is on tap.
Without making too many proclamations, here’s an attempt to try to stack up the Bruins and the Red Wings prior to the start of this series.
Up front, the Red Wings are led by Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson, Gustav Nyquist, Johan Franzen, Tomas Tatar and Henrik Zetterberg (injured).
The Bruins’ top forwards are David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson.
In terms of pure goal-scoring and play-making ability, the Red Wings have the advantage on the top end, with Datsyuk (17-20-37 in 45 games played) arguably being the most skilled player in the game and with Nyquist (28-20-48 in 57 games) proving to be a dangerous offensive weapon.
Yet in terms of overall play — winning faceoffs, playing smart defensively, making plays in the offensive end — you’d be hard-pressed to find a better group in the entire NHL than the Bruins’ forward corps. Patrice Bergeron made his case to win his second career Selke Trophy, with a 30-goal, 62-point, plus-38 season, and David Krejci was just as good, posting 19-50-69 totals with a plus-39 rating. Jarome Iginla turned in a 30-goal performance the ripe old age of 36, and the third line of Chris Kelly-Carl Soderberg-Loui Eriksson became a force in the latter half of the year, helping to make this group of Bruins forwards arguably more dangerous than the one that won the Cup in 2011.
Advantage at Forward: Boston
Neither defensive corps is exactly made up of six All-Stars. For Detroit, it’s Niklas Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey as the top three.
For Boston, it’s captain Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton, and rookies Torey Krug and Kevan Miller leading the way.
The Wings, who are the only team in the 16-team playoff field to get outscored this season, will be without Jonathan Ericsson on the blue line, as he suffered a broken finger and torn ligaments late in the season. That leaves the Red Wings with some question marks on D in the form of Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff.
Of course, the Bruins aren’t without question marks of their own. Behind the nearly impenetrable Chara and the solid Boychuk, much of the remainder of the defense has spent various nights this season in the press box as healthy scratches. Miller has been a pleasant surprise for Boston, but Matt Bartkowski, Krug, Hamilton and Andrej Meszaros have all shown some shortcomings this year.
Still, when you pit two teams’ D-men against each other, and both have question marks, you go with the one that includes Chara.
Advantage on Defense: Boston, slightly
It’s Jimmy Howard vs. Tuukka Rask, and it’s the one area where there is a clear-cut winner.
Howard had a down year in 2013-14, posting a .910 save percentage and 2.66 goals-against average. At one point, he suffered a knee injury and at another, he struggled to fight off Jonas Gustavsson for the starting job.
Rask, meanwhile, posted a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage, and he appears to be the front-runner to win the Vezina Trophy.
Howard’s career postseason numbers (.918 save percentage, 2.57 GAA, 20-22 record) also pale in comparison to Rask’s (.930 save percentage, 2.14 GAA, 21-14 record). Rask really proved himself last spring, and he gives the Bruins the distinct advantage between the pipes in this series.
Advantage at Goaltending: Boston, decisively
Mike Babcock won a Stanley Cup as Detroit’s head coach and gold medals as Team Canada’s head coach in the Olympics in Vancouver and in Sochi.
Claude Julien won a Stanley Cup as Boston’s head coach and a gold medal as Babcock’s assistant in February. Julien also has a Jack Adams Award, something that is missing from Babcock’s resume.
Both of these guys are pretty good at coaching.
Expect both coaches to be active on the benches, utilizing the last change to their advantage whenever possible. The two have a healthy amount of respect for one another, and they also know each other’s style quite well.
“We all got to know each other a little bit better [in Sochi] but I don’t think there are secrets in this game anymore,” Julien said this week. “I know his tendencies, he knows mine. It’s just going to make for a more interesting series but I don’t think there’s that big of a difference between the two of us because we worked together or if I was going against someone else that I didn’t work with. We do pretty well with tendencies, not just with players but also with coaches’ tendencies. How certain guys are hard matchers, other guys don’t and that kind of stuff. This is all the stuff that we have to do as coaches.”
Expect some straightforward decisions from both coaches, as neither will try to get too crafty. Both teams are certainly in good hands, but Babcock earns the ever-so-slight edge because he’s coached 24 more playoff games than Julien.
Advantage in Coaching: Detroit, slightly
How do the Bruins and Red Wings stack up in your opinion? Vote below.