The adrenaline-laced, hard-hitting NHL postseason is upon us. This season has included many changes to the norm. Two teams (Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings) moved from the Western Conference to the Eastern. While those two teams encountered the most change this past regular season, every NHL team had to adjust to new divisions and a revamped playoff-berth system. For the first time in the NHL’s history, a wild card format was used to determine those teams that would continue onto the postseason. Despite the numerous alterations to the working of the National Hockey League, one thing remained constant: the Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs.
This postseason marks the 23rd consecutive playoff appearance for the storied team represented by the winged wheel. It’s currently the longest active streak and ranks fifth all-time (the top four, in descending order, are as follows: Boston Bruins (29), Chicago Blackhawks (28), St. Louis Blues (25), and Montreal Canadiens (24)). However, different from recent years, the Red Wings are entering the playoffs as an underdog – they begin their series tonight against the 2013-14 President’s Award winners, the Boston Bruins.
Both the Bruins and Red Wings were part of the famous Original Six NHL teams. As a result, they have a history, though it has been many years since they have met in the postseason because of conference alignments. In fact, the last time these Original Six rivals met in the playoffs was 1957. The organizations are completely new, but the passion remains. Let’s take a look at what the Bruins-Red Wings series could offer.
Being the President’s Award winners, the Bruins will enjoy home ice advantage as long as their conquest lasts. Obviously, this is a boon for the Boston squad. They went 31-7-3 at home this season. However, the Wings have proved to be pesky foes away. Far from the record-setting home run they enjoyed two seasons ago (winning 23 consecutive home games), the Red Wings won more games away than home this season. Furthermore, Detroit beat Boston 3 times out of 4 meetings this season (two in Detroit, one in Boston), and have won 7 games of their past 8 tilts. But, that was the regular season. This is the NHL playoffs, where most things you thought you knew are wrong.
Breaking up the positions, we can attempt to postulate at what might happen tonight and the rest of the series. While Detroit boasts players such as Datsyuk, Alfredsson, Franzen, and Zetterberg (though he’s injured), Boston’s offense has proved to be more lethal this year. The Bruins posted 261 goals for this year, a considerable advantage compared to Detroit’s 222. Defensively, Boston again holds the edge. The Lidstrom-era has come and gone, leaving Detroit with some defensive veterans, but mostly a swath of young guns. The Bruin’s D has been thoroughly tested and their captain, Zdeno Chara, is a favorite for the Norris trophy this year. The Red Wings allowed 230 goals this year while Boston only let 177 slip by. In net, Tukka Rask has been a solid anchor for the Bostonians. Conversely, Jimmy Howard (who will get the start over Gustavsson) has had a tumultuous season, complete with highlight-reel saves and weeks of questionable performance. Rask definitely gives the Bruins a chance to win every game. Finally, coaching. While under Claude Julien, Boston has enjoyed much success including seven consecutive playoff appearances, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances, and one Stanley Cup. However, Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock is considered one of the best in the game. He took the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003, even routing the defending Stanley Cup Champions (interestingly enough, that team was the Detroit Red Wings) in the first round, won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008, took the team back to the Finals in 2009, and has won two gold medals as head coach for Team Canada.
Reading the previous paragraph would signal that the Bruins are likely to win this series. Sure enough, they have many factors in their favor, but, as aforementioned, this is the playoffs. Next, let’s take a quick look at the rest of the series.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
This one is a toss-up. Both teams have had tough seasons. Neither enjoyed a comfortable place within playoff contention; each crossed the playoff line multiple times throughout the season. However, Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop shifted into another gear in the latter half of the season, securing their position in the Atlantic Division. Similarly, the Canadiens found their groove near the last couple months of the season, delivering strong performances against teams within the conference. I would guess that the Lightning have a slight edge because they ended the season a bit hotter, but the Canadiens took the first game on the road. Only time will tell for sure.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Penguins should handily take care of the Blue Jackets. While Columbus is an up-and-coming team full of young talent, the Penguins boast some of the most recognizable names in hockey. Every facet of the Pittsburgh team functions like a well-oiled machine and I find it very difficult to imagine that they would surrender in the first round to a team that barely snuck into a wild card spot. The Penguins currently lead the series 1-0.
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Sometimes things flush out perfectly, as is the case with this series. The Flyers-Rangers rivalry has been a bitter, heated spectacle for many years. The rivalry was put on the national stage with their 2012 Winter Classic, and the animosity has not deteriorated. As with many rivalries, the series really could go either way, but New York has been a more stable team in the postseason as of late. Additionally, Philadelphia’s goaltender-situation has been shaky all year, while the Rangers have one of the best in the game with Henrik Lundqvist. NY leads the series 1-0.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
The Avalanche hold considerable advantage in this tilt. Minnesota has made many moves to create a dynastic team, but they have yet to prove themselves in the postseason. Individual talent is in excess in Minnesota, but they only “click” sometimes. To make matters worse for Minnesota’s prospects, they blew a 4-2 lead in last night’s game, losing in overtime. A great feat for the steady Colorado team, but a reason to be scared for Wild fans. Avs lead 1-0.
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This series could be the most exciting of the first-round matchups. The Blues were fortunate to have most of their injured-riddled players return to the lineup for the beginning of this series. A great addition to the Blues organization before the trade deadline was elite-goaltender Ryan Miller. Similarly, the Blackhawks were happy to have a healthy team entering this exhilarating matchup. Chicago and St. Louis have fostered an impassioned rivalry, which was fully on display in last night’s game. Arguably the most even-matched teams this postseason, their first game went into triple overtime. After nearly playing a full two-games worth of minutes, the Blues finally broke the stalemate and earned a 1-0 series lead. This series is sure to be one of the most exciting. I’m looking forward to it. STL leads 1-0.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
Rather a dull series in my mind. I have no love for either squads, and the outcome seems almost-certain. I think Anaheim will use their extensive offensive talent to bury the Texan team. ANA leads 1-0.
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
SoCal rivalries! Although a seemingly odd place for hockey teams, Southern California now boasts three formidable teams (Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles). The rivalries tend to be just as frenzied as decade-old ones. Most will remember that Los Angeles recently won a Stanley Cup entering the playoffs as an 8 seed. What most people won’t realize is that San Jose holds the second-highest active playoff appearance streak at 10 consecutive years. A far cry from Detroit’s 23, but very respectable for a team that came into the league in 1991 (yes, the Wings have made the playoffs as long as the Sharks have been a team). Always an all-around, physical team, the Sharks are poised for another deep playoff run with their numerous veterans and solid goaltending. SJS leads series 1-0.
As previously mentioned, all of my thoughts are purely speculation. In a sport as unpredictable as hockey, one can only make educated guesses and see how it actually turns out. Nevertheless, look for more NHL playoff coverage here on Saying Something.
Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Urban Development.