The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/13/14 at 02:33 AM ET
Today's Red Wings-Blues game is weird all the way around. The game starts at 12:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time to accommodate--I'm not kidding here--"Stars on Ice" and then the World Figure Skating Championships--but NBC's desire for a noonish start means that the faceoff's actually taking place at 11:30 AM local time, so players who'd normally be filing into the rink around 9 for a morning skate will be getting up early to play a game that counts for both teams.
The Wings are locked into the 2nd Wild Card spot and a first-round battle with the Bruins, and the lack of any evening personnel news has turned the team's recalls of Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet into something of a mystery, but the Wings' players and coach expressed a significant amount of dissatisfaction with their play of late after they practiced away from Joe Louis Arena (thanks, Cher)...
And while the Blues--who've lost 5 straight games--are currently as banged-up as the Wings were a month ago, this game means the difference between winning the Central Division (the Blues and Avs are currently tied for the division lead, and the Avs tangle with the Ducks on Sunday night) and playing Chicago in the 1st round, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains:
• If the Blues win and Colorado gets one point or loses in regulation, the Blues win the Central and play Minnesota.
• If the Blues earn at least one point, they win the Central and face Minnesota provided Colorado loses in regulation.
• If the Blues lose in regulation, Colorado wins the Central regardless of its game. The Blues would face Chicago.
Note • If the Blues and Colorado finish with the same number of points, Colorado wins the Central via the No. 1 tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins). Colorado has 47, the Blues 43. The Blues also could finish tied for most points in the Western Conference, but would lose out on the No. 1 seed based on tiebreakers no matter what happens Sunday.
So the Blues may have the following players injured, per the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
St. Louis has gotten hit with a long list of injured forwards, all of which most likely won’t play in Sunday afternoon’s regular season finale against the Wings.
According to the Post Dispatch the Blues are missing seven regular forwards: David Backes (foot), T.J. Oshie (upper body), Patrik Berglund (upper body), Vladimir Tarasenko (hand), Brenden Morrow (foot), Derek Roy (upper body) and Vladimir Sobotka (lower body).
The Blues really need to snap their 5-game losing streak with a strong performance, as coach Ken Hitchcock told In the Slot's Louie Korac:
The Blues, who were on pace for a record-setting season and just as short as a week ago had the opportunity to win a Presidents' Trophy, the top seed in the Western Conference and were virtually a lock to win the Central Division, went from a relatively healthy lineup (minus Vladimir Tarasenko) to facing the Dallas Stars on Friday night without David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Sobotka and Derek Roy. And late in the 3-0 loss to the Stars, the Blues lost Patrik Berglund to an upper-body injury that could keep him out for an extended period of time.
The lineup featured the likes of Ty Rattie, the team's 2011 second round pick who made his NHL debut, veterans Keith Aucoin and Adam Cracknell. All three were recalled from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves on Friday.
"The positive thing is we have one more game to play, there's going to be 14 teams out on Sunday night, and we're one of the 16 that are in," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "So we're in the dance starting on Monday. We've got time to get ready and ... maybe the landscape changes a little, but the goal doesn't change. (The) goal doesn't change one bit. You never know. You never know who's the new hero, you never know who comes in and help you, you never know who comes back and helps you. All those things. you don't know that stuff. You've got to go through it."
What the lineup resembles this morning could be similar to what was out there Friday night. Whatever situation the Blues face, they know there is still another goal left.
"It's not fun (with the injuries) and it's an important game," Hitchcock said. "We've got to get a (win), but if we don't, we've still got to get up Monday morning and find a roster to be able to play. Anybody that can play is playing. Anybody that can't isn't going to play. We're playing that game to win and that's going to be our attitude. Our roster is our roster, nobody is feeling sorry for us. But after the game is over, we're going to move on quickly. Some teams get to go to work on Monday or Tuesday. Maybe we're a team that has to rest a whole bunch, but regardless, when it starts up, nothing changes. It's still find a way."
Hitchcock warned before this losing skid that teams limping into the playoffs typically don't have a good chance of amping their game back up when the intensity and heat of the playoffs begin. But he softened his stance with a prime example.
"Boston finished 2-7-2 at the end of last year, 2-7-1 or some darn thing and only got healthy at the end of the Toronto series, barely," Hitchcock said. "Then won it in dramatic fashion in Game 7 because the series got extended. Went on to play in the Cup final. You don't know that stuff. Starting Monday, you just fight, you just fight and battle."
Korac believes that Jimmy Howard and Ryan Miller will battle in the nets today.
The Belleville News-Democrat's Norm Sanders reiterated the injury situation...
On March 29, the Blues still had a commanding nine-point lead over Colorado. Seven games later, the Avalanche have caught the Blues with the Central Division title up for grabs Sunday.
"It's trust your work," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If you trust your work, then everybody trusts each other."
The Blues' lengthy injured list includes:
* Forward David Backes (lower body)
* Forward T.J. Oshie (upper body)
* Forward Vladimir Tarasenko (right hand)
* Forward Vladimir Sobotka (undisclosed)
* Forward Patrik Berglund (undisclosed, believed to be upper body)
* Forward Brenden Morrow (lower body)
* Forward Derek Roy (undisclosed)
And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford spoke with the Blues' players regarding their situation:
After a record-breaking season, in which the Blues surpassed the single-season franchise record for wins (with 52), the five-game losing skid and a locker room loaded with walking boots and casts has been difficult to handle for players.
“It’s a tough thing to swallow at this time of the year, (but) how you approach it I think is going to really show the character of this team,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We’re in a spot that we really haven’t been in much this year, but like I said, there’s a lot of guys in here who’ve been around the block once or twice and I think we can pull ourselves out of it. We put in a good effort on Sunday, that’s all we can worry about right now and then we start practicing next week and get ready for the playoffs.”
While counting on their healthy veterans to perform, the Blues will also be leaning on a cast of players called up Friday from the Chicago Wolves, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate.
Ty Rattie, Keith Aucoin and Adam Cracknell each played Friday and probably will be in the lineup Sunday, along with Sergey Andronov — who was promoted from Chicago on Saturday.
After learning earlier in the day that he would make his NHL debut Friday, Rattie finished with three shots on goal in 11 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time. He was a minus-2.
If you're interested in "The Spirit of the Thing," the Post-Dispatch's Joe Strauss laments the team's late-season struggles, but this isn't a Blues blog, so here's Rurtherford's prospective Blues lineup...
Steve Ott-Alexander Steen-Jaden Schwartz
Demitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie
Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Magnus Paajarvi-Keith Aucoin-Adam Cracknell
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carlo Colaiacovo-Roman Polak
And here's his game preview:
Blues • The Blues are hoping the final day of the regular season will be the one in which their losing streak, at five games, ends. An early faceoff against Detroit has huge playoff implications as well (see accompanying list). The club is expected to be without several regulars who will miss the game because of injuries.
Red Wings • This game is Detroit’s only stop in St. Louis this season. The Blues defeated Detroit 4-1 on Jan. 20 at Joe Louis Arena. The game has little meaning to the Red Wings, who have clinched a spot in the playoffs, extending their streak of consecutive postseason appearances to 23. A victory Saturday by Columbus finalized Detroit’s first-round matchup with Boston. Jimmy Howard is expected to start in goal Sunday for the Red Wings.
If you wish to read a "Spirit of the Thing" take on the Blues' struggles, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Joe Strauss provides for your needs, but as this isn't a Blues blog, I'd prefer to shift our focus from the takes of the Blues to those of the Wings via NHL.com's Brian Hedger's preview...
Season series: This is the final matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues, who are in different conferences after being longtime rivals in the Central Division. The Blues won 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 20.
The Blues kicked the Wings' butts in that game...
Big story: St. Louis is banged up and in a tailspin heading into the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blues have lost five straight games and need at least a point to have a chance to pass the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the Central Division. Each team has 111 points, but the Avalanche own the tiebreaker going into Sunday. The Avalanche finish their season on the road Sunday evening against the Anaheim Ducks.
Detroit was assured of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference when the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Saturday
Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit's main goal is heading into its 23rd straight playoff appearance on a high note. It won't be easy because the Blues have ample motivation.
"It's always a tough matchup for us every time we play them, regardless of who's in and who's not for each team," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said, according to MLive.com. "It's always a very tight game, pretty physical and of course they want to be feeling good going into the playoffs as well."
Forward Daniel Alfredsson (sore back) will not play Sunday, but he'll be ready for Detroit's first-round series against the Boston Bruins. Joakim Andersson will play in Alfredsson's spot at right wing on the third line. Center David Legwand didn't practice Saturday but is expected to play Sunday.
Who's hot: Red Wings rookie center Riley Sheahan has scored goals in back-to-back games, and rookie forward Tomas Jurco has three goals and one assist in his past six contests. ... Blues forward Jaden Schwartz has scored two goals in the past four games.
Injury report: St. Louis is missing Berglund (upper body) and forwards David Backes (foot), T.J. Oshie (upper body), Vladimir Sobotka (lower body), Vladimir Tarasenko (hand), Derek Roy (upper body) and Brenden Morrow (foot). ... The Red Wings have three players on injured reserve: captain Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery), defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (fractured finger/surgery) and forward Stephen Weiss (sports hernia surgery). Forward Daniel Cleary (knee sprain) is out indefinitely.
And the AP's preview adds stats to the mix:
Poor goaltending has plagued the Blues, with Ryan Miller posting a 4.04 goals-against average and .856 save percentage in four starts during the slide. He was allowing 2.20 goals per game while going 11-4-1 over his first 16 starts after being traded from Buffalo on March 1. Miller is 2-8-2 in 12 career starts versus Detroit with a 3.41 GAA -- his worst against one opponent.
The Blues also have just five goals in their last five games after previously ranking fourth in the league with 3.1 per game. Leading goal scorer Alexander Steen is without a goal while playing three times during the losing streak, though he has four goals and nine assists over his last 13 games against Detroit.
St. Louis was not shut out once before the Olympic break but has since been blanked five times, including twice in the past five games following Friday's 3-0 loss at Dallas. Injuries aren't helping the cause, as the Blues played without T.J. Oshie after he took a shot to the head from Minnesota's Mike Rupp in Thursday's 4-2 loss. They were also missing forwards David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow, and Patrik Berglund left with an arm injury in the third period.
The Blues will be looking to avoid their first six-game losing streak since a seven-game skid Dec. 26, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010. To do so, they'll have to notch a fourth straight win over Detroit for the first time since Jan. 26, 1991. St. Louis won 4-1 at Detroit on Jan. 20 in the only meeting this season after winning the final two last year when the Red Wings were still in the Central.
Detroit (38-28-15) is going to finish fourth in the Atlantic but is headed back to the playoffs. The Red Wings had been battling for the East's top wild-card spot with Columbus, but the Blue Jackets won Saturday at Florida to lock Detroit into the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with Boston. Columbus will face Pittsburgh in the first round.
The Red Wings lost 2-1 at home to Carolina on Friday, marking their third loss in four games following a four-game winning streak. Riley Sheahan scored their only goal on the power play in the third period, two days after Detroit clinched a 23rd consecutive postseason appearance with a shootout win in Pittsburgh.
While Daniel Alfredsson has five goals and seven assists in his last nine games versus the Blues, Jimmy Howard is 1-3-1 with a 3.82 goals-against average over his last five starts against them.
MLive's Ansar Khan, who noted the Wings' personnel absences, posited the following pre-Sproul-and-Ouellet-recall prospective lineup...
Here are the lines the Red Wings skated with today at University Liggett High School in Grosse Pointe Woods, as Joe Louis Arena wasn’t available due to the Cher concert:
Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader
Tomas Tatar-Riley Sheahan-Gustav Nyquist
Tomas Jurco-Darren Helm-Joakim Andersson
Drew Miller-Luke Glendening-Todd Bertuzzi
Legwand and Alfredsson did not skate.
Brendan Smith-Niklas Kronwall
Kyle Quincey-Danny DeKeyser
Brian Lashoff-Jakub Kindl
Forwads Daniel Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson skated as the fourth defense pairing.
Jimmy Howard (starting Sunday)
Jonas Gustavsson hasn't practiced since hurting his shoulder in Wednesday's 4-3 shootout loss at Pittsburgh.
And Khan reported that the Red Wings' coach is as aggravated by Johan Franzen's play of late as you are:
“I think it’s the Mule’s time of year,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We need him to really dig in and get to the next level for us and just continue to shoot the puck and play with grit and determination, be on the puck.”
Franzen has just one goal and six assists in the past 18 games. He had 13 goals and 16 assists in his previous 23 games, from Nov. 12 to March 7, a stretch during which he missed 22 games with a concussion.
“He’s got to be one of our best players if we’re going to have success,” Babcock said. “He knows that. He’s getting himself ready.”
Babcock talked about Friday's disappointing loss to Carolina, too...
“We got away from doing what we do in the detail and the grind, the extra work that you need to be successful,” Babcock said. “Human nature is you’ve been battling like crazy and you get a (playoff) spot and you let up for a second and then the game gets away and you can’t get it back. We understand we got to be better and now we’ll go about doing that.”
And Jimmy Howard discussed today's opponent as follows:
“They’re going to come out and play tough and hit and be physical on their forecheck and funnel pucks to the net,” said Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, who will start. “It’s the same thing we want to do.”
Babcock continued while speaking with the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa...
“The last time they played us they manhandled us,” Babcock said, recalling that the Red Wings forecheck, a critical component of the defensive strategy, did not drive on the Blues’ defensemen.
“We couldn’t get into the back end at all,” he said, “and they just came in waves and they crushed us.”
Niklas Kronwall, the de facto field general for the team for six weeks since bone fragments along Henrik Zetterberg’s spine caused a pinched nerve, said it is about using the game against the Blues to lift performance.
“I think it’s just about taking care of the puck better than we did last night,” Kronwall said, as bags were packed for the trip.
“It’s about playing more structured. Last night, it was just way too much up and down, up and down,” he said, of the wide-open nature of some of the play. And that’s not the way we’ve had success in the past. We’ve got to make sure we get out of our zone quick and get the pucks deep and really grind it out, so to speak. That’s how we win. Of course, they want to be feeling well going into the playoffs, so it should be a good game.”
Better deployment, allowing the Blues less ice than they gave the Hurricanes, less time in their own zone, more orientation toward the details of their game, a crisp performance by Howard and a goal from Franzen would be welcome sights for the Red Wings on the eve of their 23rd consecutive playoff campaign, in the 82nd game of an extraordinary season.
And the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted that Joakim Andersson's getting a chance to reestablish himself as a regular player thanks to Alfredsson's injury:
“That was my first time ever being a healthy scratch,” Andersson said. “It’s tough, obviously. The guys have been doing good, made the playoffs. It’s going to be fun going into a series.”
Andersson will skate with Darren Helm and Tomas Jurco.
“We have a lot of good players,” Andersson said. “A lot of guys from Grand Rapids were playing well. Myself, I haven’t been great.”
Andersson, who missed six games with a broken foot, is a minus-11 in 64 games this season.
“This season has been up and down for me,” said Andersson, who has eight goals and nine assists. “I think I can be a better player. Other players have been doing good.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock said that sitting Andersson had nothing to do with his play on the ice.
“Andy’s been good,” Babcock said. “Andy just got in a situation where I tried something else, it worked. Andy’s a good player, plays hard for us, a smart, important part of our team. It had nothing to do with anything he did.”
Drew Miller told the Free Press's Anthony Fenech that the team plans on bringing playoff intensity to today's affair...
“It’s a big game for us,” forward Drew Miller said. “We just want to play well in the last game and see where we’re at come playoff time and who we got.”
If the Blue Jackets beat Florida on Saturday night, the Wings would secure the second wild-card spot in the East and face the Bruins in the first round. But Miller said it doesn’t matter whom the Wings face.
“Just got to think about yourself,” he said. “Have your team going at the right time.”
And the Detroit News's Krupa spoke with Drew Miller about his battle against his brother...
“My family’s actually — my parents, and I think my sister and my brother — they’re on their way down there, now, together,” said Drew Miller. His brother, goalie Ryan Miller, is the Blues’ key in-season acquisition — and upon whom fervent hopes for a Stanley Cup in St. Louis rest.
“It would be great if he played,” Drew said. “It’s always fun to play against him.”
The Millers played for Michigan State, Drew from 2003 to 2006 and Ryan from 1999 to 2002.
“Any chance we get to play against each other, we try to make the most of it,” Drew Miller said.
While Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji noted that Miller and one other player have a somewhat surprising distinction:
When Miller and defenseman Kyle Quincey play Sunday in St. Louis, they will be the only two Red Wings to play in all 82 games this season.
"There are nights when you're a little banged up, but with the amount of injuries we've had, you just have to play through it," Miller said. "You have to be available to help the team. It's myself and Quincey. I don't really think it's other than staying healthy. Last year, I didn't get a chance to do that, breaking my hand. I don't know if that's lucky or whatever it is. You just prepare and get your body ready for a full season."
Miller has never played in all 82 games in a season. In 2011-12, he played in 80.
"Good for Q and Millsie -- I think Millsie's always been available," Babcock said. "He only sits 'cause I'd scratch him. Millsie had a good year. Q got off to a tough start, but he's been much better."
In the multimedia department, the Macomb Daily's Pleiness snagged the only video of Babcock's off-day comments...
And Fox Sports Detroit posted a clip of Drew Miller's post-practice scrum:
In terms of the Red Wings' playoff match-up, the Boston Bruins briefly addressed their possible opponent(s) while speaking with the Associated Press at the end of their Presidents' Trophy-winning 3-1 victory over Buffalo...
"We've still got to do some work here in order to get the trophy that we all really want," Boston coach Claude Julien said.
David Krejci scored two goals, Patrice Bergeron netted his 30th of the season, and Gregory Campbell got his eighth as the Bruins dominated the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 Saturday in a game between teams at opposite ends of the standings.
It's the second time the Bruins have won the Presidents' Trophy, which gives them home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, since the award was instituted for the 1985-86 season.
The Bruins have 117 points, third most in team history behind 121 in 1970-71 and 119 when they won the Stanley Cup in the 1971-72 season. Buffalo's 51 points are tied for its fewest in a season not shortened by a lockout. Each team has one game left.
"We need to play a really strong game and feel good about our game going into the playoffs," Krejci said.
But the Bruins can't quite open up about the Wings just yet:
Boston will end its regular-season schedule at New Jersey on Sunday. Buffalo will finish at home against the New York Islanders.
The Boston Herald's Stephen Conroy discussed the team's second-half record...
From start to finish, the Bruins have been the most consistent team in the NHL. With the win yesterday, the B’s assured themselves of being the only team not to suffer a three-game losing streak this season, and the feat marks the first time since 1977-78 that they pulled it off. This is also the first season since 1939-40 that a B’s team has not gone more than two straight games without earning a victory.
This team really turned up the heat in the second half of the season. Since losing to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Jan. 14, the Bruins have lost in regulation just three times. The B’s are ranked second in goals for and goals against, and they lead the league in goal differential at plus-85, some 25 better than the second-place St. Louis Blues. Also, the Bruins are in the top 10 for both their power play (third) and penalty kill (eighth).
“We’ve been pretty good in a lot of areas this year,” Julien said. “That’s been a great regular season, but we’ve got one more game left (on the road today against the New Jersey Devils) and then we all know that what everybody calls the real season is right around the corner. I’m going to tell you that I’m really happy with the way we handled these 81 games, and hopefully these 82 by tomorrow. But that’s all going to be pushed aside starting Monday.”
Yesterday’s tilt was far from a perfect game. The Bruins gave up a few too many quality scoring chances, and a playoff opponent might make them pay a little more dearly than the Sabres. The game could prove costly, as well, if winger Daniel Paille (possible concussion) is lost for long period of time.
Overall, however, the B’s were back on track after not playing their best hockey in recent games. Once a couple of goals were scored late in the first period, there was never any question of which team would win.
“After the last game (a shootout loss to the Jets in Winnipeg), I felt like we had a pretty strong game,” Krejci said. “There were a couple of mistakes so we’ll have to correct that. But it’s a game of mistakes and, as long as there were fewer mistakes than last game, then we’re going in the right direction.”
Zdeno Chara had this to say to the Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin:
“After tomorrow, everything is going to start from zero,” said Chara, whose team will face the Red Wings in the first round. “It’s something that we certainly are proud of, if you want to say that. 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.”
Just because they won the trophy, just because they finished the regular season with the best record, that means little when the playoffs begin this week. As Chara added, “It’s going to be, I think, even tougher.”
And Comcast Sportsnet Northeast's Joe Haggerty both explained why the schedule's stacking up as it is...
Based on the NHL calendar kicking the Stanley Cup playoffs off on April 16 and the Boston Celtics playing their final home game of the season that night at TD Garden, the series between Boston and Detroit is expected to kick off with Game 1 in Boston on Thursday night. It’s expected that NBC is going to be pick up Game 2 of the Bruins/Wings series next weekend, and their open slots on Saturday are 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. There’s also a 3 p.m. slot on Sunday as a possibility, but Game 2 is pretty much a lock to be a Saturday matinee at TD Garden at this point.
And he weighed in on the match-up:
“As far as losing sleep over it, I mean, you just have to be ready for whoever you are going to play, whoever you are going to face and then that’s it,” said Zdeno Chara. “I think that if you want to move on, if you want to win, you have to win the series no matter who you are playing.”
The Bruins have lost two games to the Red Wings this season without Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup, and lost their most recent game vs. Detroit with both Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the lineup. Datsyuk should be ready to play to start the playoffs, and Zetterberg is skating by himself with an aim at returning at some point in the first round series.
The Bruins are clearly the favorites in the series and should be able to wear Detroit down over the course of the playoff series, but the speed and skill of the Red Wings is exactly the kind of team that can exploit a bigger, slower Bruins team. Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist gave the Bruins defense a pretty fair amount of issues this season, and there is no shortage of Stanley Cup playoff experience up and down Detroit’s lineup.
There’s also the simple fact that the Bruins haven’t won a game in Joe Louis Arena since back in 2007, and have consistently had problems with the Red Wings over the years. For a team in the Bruins that earned the No. 1 spot overall in this spring’s playoffs, Detroit really seems to be a tough draw in the first round for a team of Boston’s stature.
SouthCoast Today's Mick Colangelo also weighed in...
The weirdest coincidence of this era of Cup-contending Bruins hockey is the playoff rivalries that laid dormant so many years — in fact, all the way back to the 1970s, the last era of Bruins hockey to rival this one in terms of championships. So the news that the Bruins will open the playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings did not come with the shock it deserves, even though these teams have not met in a playoff series since 1957. One of the greater playoff victories in pre-modern Bruins history was Boston’s 6-game upset of the defending Stanley Cup champions in 1953. Boston also won that last series in ’57, but both of those playoff years the Bruins lost the final to Montreal.
By the time Boston once again had a Cup-contending team in the late ’60s, the Red Wings had gotten old and were entering their own abyss. By the time the Detroit franchise caught fire in the early ’90s, the Wings were in the Western Conference, so only mutual trips to the Cup final could bring the Bruins and the Red Wings back together in the playoffs. This season marked Detroit’s return to the Eastern Conference, but for a while their injuries conspired with the 2012 retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom (and the 2011 retirement of Brian Rafalski) to threaten what is now a 23-year playoff streak. The Bruins set the bar with a 29-year playoff streak, every season of which they had a winning record. The first of Detroit’s current streak was not.
It is one of the great ironies that the ownership of Jeremy Jacobs (who inherited the streak at 8 years and added 21 to it) and the managerial skill of Harry Sinden (whose hand in this streak ends backward two more years = 23) somehow escapes the appreciation of a Boston fanbase that largely blames these two men for not winning the Cup between 1972 and 2011. Rink Rap blames the three most-dynastic teams of the modern era: the Montreal Canadiens (who stopped the Jacobs/Sinden Bruins in the ’77 and ’78 final and ’79 semifinal), the N.Y. Islanders (who beat Boston in ’80 and ’83), and the Edmonton Oilers (who beat the Bruins in the ’88 and ’90 finals). The notion — make that a myth — that the Bruins did not ice a sincerely competitive team under that ownership/management is ludicrous. The late ’70s and the 82-83 squad if not the ’88 and ’90 Boston teams were all of championship caliber but happened to be going up against something really special in each particular chapter of the game’s history.
So now Detroit has outdone the list of formerly dormant playoff rivals from the ’70s with this rivalry renewed.
And WEEI's DJ Bean noted the brother-vs-brother aspect of the rivalry...
This marks the eighth time the Bruins and Red Wings in the postseason, though you probably don’t remember the most recent meeting. That came back in 1957, when the Bruins beat Detroit in the semifinals in five games.
The series will also feature a pair of siblings clashing, as Bruins forward Reilly Smith will play against his brother, Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith.
The Lightning and Canadiens will face one another in the first round, with the winner of the Boston-Detroit series facing the winner of that series.
And the brother-vs-brother rivalry, as Bean points out, is a Twitter-friendly one:
Smith was also more than ready to talk about the possible match-up, as the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted:
The series will begin Thursday with game two taking place Saturday. Games three and four will be April 21 and 23 at Joe Louis Arena. Times will be announced later.
“There are lots of challenges,” Brendan Smith said of the Wings’ first round opponent. “They have scoring, they have physicality, they have puck-moving (players), they have arguably one of the best goalies and 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,” Smith continued. “The only other team I might compare them to is St. Louis. So it’s going to be a challenge for us.
Boston, which also has one game left in the regular season, has 117 points, while Detroit has 91.
“We’ve played them well, we play a system that does well against Boston and it’s something that we have to stick to,” Smith said. “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 (David) Krejci’s line and (Patrice) Bergeron’s line and it’s 1A and 1B situation and we have to be able to shut them down.”
The Wings were a little more circumspect while speaking with DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose:
"Well I think we got four lines, and we got a tenacity about us, we know how to play,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Like I said, we’re going to need really good goaltending and the rest will look after itself.”
With their 4-1 win over Buffalo on Saturday, the Bruins locked up the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record. It's the second time they have won the trophy, which gives them home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bruins have 117 points, third most in team history behind 121 in 1970-71 and 119 when they won the 1972 Stanley Cup.
Injuries played a huge factor in the Red Wings’ season, but they refused to allow an assortment of concussions, surgeries and sore groins define them as 37 different players dressed, including eight rookies who made their NHL debuts in the last six months. They reached the playoffs as a team in the true sense of the word, and without a single 50-point producer.
“I think as a team we’ve gotten better over the last few weeks a lot,” Gustav Nyquist said. “We’ve won some pretty big games and we showed ourselves that we can turn around some games against some good teams. So as young guys, because of the leadership in this locker room, we’ve all grown as players and we have a lot of confidence coming in as a team.”
"“We’ve played playoff hockey and that’s the biggest thing for us,” Smith said, “We’re very competitive and we have the pieces to play in a playoff series. These guys have done it before and that’s the biggest thing.”
[S]hould the first-round series with Boston go deep, the Wings are hopeful that they’ll get captain Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger surgery) back in the lineup, and that Pavel Datsyuk will continue to improve from a knee injury.
“I think getting Z back will be huge,” rookie forward Luke Glendening said. “I don’t know what the timetable is that but Pav was out for a while and Big E’s out right now and guys are spending some serious time on the IR and to be able to get this team going that’s a testament to the leadership and the older guys here. A lot of talk has been about the kids and the young guys but without the leadership we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be anywhere close. So it’s cool to be able to keep the streak alive for sure.”
The Free Press's Helene St. James duly noted that aspect of the discussion...
Henrik Zetterberg remains out; the next event on his calendar is a mid-month checkup with a back specialist. Zetterberg underwent back surgery in Feb. 21 and is still serving the eight weeks of rest ordered. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson suffered a broken finger March 18, with expected recovery in 4-6 weeks.
When — if — Zetterberg pops up as a viable candidate to play, the Wings are going to have a nice problem deciding who to scratch. The lines that have played this week have been the most effective four lines the Wings have had all season — Datsyuk with Franzen and Justin Abdelkader, Riley Sheahan with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, Darren Helm with Tomas Jurco and Daniel Alfredsson, and Luke Glendening with Drew Miller and David Legwand.
Unsolicited, Babcock made a point this week of noting how important it was that general manager Ken Holland acquired Legwand minutes before the March 5 trade deadline.
“We all rave about our kids,” Babcock said, “but in the end, we don’t make the playoffs unless Ken makes the deal at the deadline. If we don’t get Legwand, we don’t get in the playoffs.”
The bigger veteran acquisition, though, was last summer’s signing of Daniel Alfredsson. Those from the 2008 Stanley Cup championship team see him as this season’s version of Dallas Drake, a beloved player who in the twilight of his career is still missing a Stanley Cup. “Having guys like that, it makes you dig deep,” Franzen said.
To Babcock, Alfredsson has been invaluable not just for the smart plays he makes, but for the natural leadership he provided for a team absent its two superstars for half the season.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Pav and Z because they’re a huge part of our team,” Babcock said. “But Nik Kronwall set the tone for this team this year because he did it every day, right, all the time. Alfredsson gave him another support guy, and with the Mule, in my opinion, because those other guys weren’t available to us to lead. To me that group did the lion’s share of the work, leadership-wise, and that’s so critical.”
And the Free Press's Jeff Seidel had a very, very long conversation with Ken Holland regarding the Wings' "mentorship process," which is more than worth reading in its entirety:
“I call it the mentorship program,” he said. “When I think of the impact that Draper and Maltby had on Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm. When I think of what Datsyuk and Zetterberg had under Igor Larionov and Yzerman. And Mike Vernon to Chris Osgood to Jimmy Howard, and now, to Petr Mrazek.”
So you learn about the work ethic and expectations in training camp, and it seeps into every practice and workout. But that’s just the start. There are more lessons to learn, like how you act on the road, how you take care of your body and how you prepare for games.
“At the end of the day, you need role models,” Holland said. “They aren’t just going to show up here and have it on their own. Somebody needs to show them. A coach can only do so much. When we go on the road, somebody has to have supper with those kids.”
A week ago, Holland saw Joakim Andersson, 25, and Gustav Nyquist, 24, go to dinner with Kronwall, 33. That is just as important as what can be learned at practice.
“Nik Kronwall is doing it right,” Holland said. “He is going to make sure he eats right and trains right, and that’s how it gets passed down from one generation to the next.”
“I know, at times, people around here get anxious,” Holland said. “Throw the young kids in. I don’t believe in entitlement. Just because you are young, you don’t get handed keys to the castle. You have to pay your dues. You have to take somebody’s job away. That’s sort of my philosophy.”
So he keeps signing veterans, even when the Wings have talent in Grand Rapids.
“I signed the veterans to give us depth, to make role models, to make us deeper, but at the same time, you have to give those young kids somebody to take their job,” Holland said. “If you can’t take their job, you probably aren’t going to be good enough and we aren’t going to be good enough.”
Shifting focus back to the match-up, the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa posited the following before looking back at the teams' regular-season series...
The Wings will finish in the eighth seed, regardless of the outcome of their game Sunday against the Blues.
This season, the Bruins have largely returned to the form that carried them to the Stanley Cup three seasons ago. They are a powerful offensive team with considerable size and physicality that stresses defense under coach Claude Julien.
They have the widest goal differential in the NHL, scoring 85 more than they have yielded — 26 goals more than the Ducks, with the second highest differential.
But the Red Wings are a faster team, especially with the addition of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco to the lineup, and the returns from injury of Darren Helm and Pavel Datsyuk, despite Datsyuk’s creaky knee.
Indeed, the Wings beat the Bruins in three of four meetings this season.
MLive's Ansar Khan weighed in on the series at hand...
The series will start Thursday night at the TD Garden. Game 2 is expected to be Saturday afternoon. Games 3 and 4 are expected to be at Joe Louis Arena on Monday, April 21 and Wednesday, April 23.
The entire playoff schedule will be released Sunday night.
The Red Wings, who wrap up the regular season Sunday at St. Louis (12:30 p.m., NBC) won the season series from the Bruins 3-1, outscoring them 13-9. Detroit won the final three games against their Atlantic Division rival (3-2, 6-1 and 3-2) after losing 4-1 in the first meeting.
These historic franchises haven't met in the postseason since 1957, when the Bruins eliminated the Red Wings in the semifinals (4-1) during the six-team era.
The Bruins won’t finish with the best record in the NHL by accident. They are a big, physical team that has plenty of skill, too.
They have six players with 51 or more points in David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith, the younger brother of Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith. Boston’s strong defense is anchored by 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara, a likely Norris Trophy finalist. Tuukka Rask (36-15-6, 2.04 goals-against average and .930 save percentage) is one of the best goaltenders in the league.
Boston has reached the Stanley Cup final twice in the past three seasons, beating Vancouver in seven games in 2011 and losing to Chicago in six games in 2013.
And finally, the Free Press's Steve Schrader's "News Quiz" might summarize the Wings' situation--win or lose--in properly lighthearted historical context:
What has happened during the Red Wings’ streak of 23 straight playoff appearances?
A) They’ve won four Stanley Cups.
B) The Lions have had 16 losing seasons.
C) The Pistons have had 14 coaches.
D) Justin Verlander’s girlfriend was born.
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