Commentary

First-round preview: Bruins-Wings

Updated: April 15, 2014, 4:48 PM ET
By Craig Custance | ESPN The Magazine

In their last of four matchups during the regular season, the Red Wings beat the Bruins 3-2 on April 2. The win meant the Red Wings had won three of four over the Bruins, but it didn't necessarily fill them with any false confidence. They know exactly what they're getting in the powerhouse Bruins in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"They lost the game when they played here, but they were good, really good, actually," Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar told ESPN The Magazine. "They had most of the puck and outshot us because they didn't let us get anything at the start of the game. We couldn't find a way to get in the game."

Yet the Red Wings found a way to win with opportunistic third-period goals, including one where second-half sensation Gustav Nyquist blew past Zdeno Chara for the game winner.

It's what makes this playoff matchup -- the first between these storied franchises since 1957 -- so fascinating. The Bruins are loaded with a Vezina-caliber goalie in Tuukka Rask, a franchise centerman in Patrice Bergeron and a great leader and defender in Chara. But the Red Wings are the most dangerous of all the wild-card teams. They were the one wild-card team contenders didn't want to face. It makes this as compelling a showdown as there is in the first round, despite the disparity in regular-season points. Nobody expects this to be easy for the reigning Eastern Conference champs.

Spotlight On

Bruins: Jarome Iginla

The last time we saw Iginla in the postseason, he was part of a Penguins team that was swept out of the Eastern Conference finals, a series in which Iginla was a nonfactor. Against the Bruins, Iginla didn't register a single point, was a minus-4 and managed just five shots the entire series. He is a much better fit for the style in Boston, evidenced with his strong regular season, when he finished with 30 goals and 61 points. "Boston's style, it's very good for whoever is joining this system," Iginla said. "The zone time, the puck possession, physical [play] -- it gets you into it."

Red Wings: The kids

For years, decades really, the Red Wings have leaned on a veteran group steeped in the culture that knew exactly what it took to succeed in the playoffs. This version of the Red Wings, the 23rd consecutive to get into the postseason, is unique. It was the push from young players such as Nyquist, Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Danny DeKeyser, Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening that got Detroit in. If they're going to pull off the upset, the kids who won the Calder Cup in the AHL last spring will have to play a big part on a team trying to make noise this spring.

Hero In Waiting

Bruins: Loui Eriksson

If Eriksson begins the playoffs on the third line, he will be the best third-line winger in the entire postseason. Injuries cut into his offensive production in his first season with the Bruins, but his 58.7 percent Corsi For (a metric that tracks shot attempts), shows he's one of the Bruins' most effective puck-possession forwards. When he got top-line minutes at the end of the regular season, Eriksson responded with some of his strongest play as a Bruin. In five April games, he averaged 19:57 of ice time, the highest of any month of the season, and had five points. When everybody slots back into the lineup, a now-healthy Eriksson likely works his way back down to a third line that projects to be a difference-maker in this series.

Red Wings: Henrik Zetterberg

The availability of Zetterberg will be a constant storyline in this series. He hasn't played since back pain forced him out of the Winter Olympics but is skating again and hasn't ruled out a return against the Bruins. It's asking a lot of Zetterberg to jump into the thick of a playoff series without playing a minute of NHL action since Feb. 8 and still be effective, but he's such a smart, savvy player that if he plays he will be a difference-maker. Before the injury, Zetterberg was producing over a point per game with 48 points in 45 games. With 12 points in 14 playoff games last year, he was a big part of Detroit knocking off the Ducks and nearly defeating the Blackhawks. If the Red Wings can manage a couple of wins without him and then plug him into the lineup, this series gets interesting.

Fatal Flaw

Bruins: Pressure

They're the Presidents' Trophy winner, which didn't faze the Blackhawks last year when they became the first team since the 2007-08 Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup and the Presidents' Trophy. Since the trophy started being awarded in 1985-86, only one Eastern Conference Presidents' Trophy winner also won the Stanley Cup: the 1993-94 Rangers. Not only that, these Bruins have to deal with the additional burden of being the heavy favorite in the East. It's hard to find anyone who doesn't think the Bruins are significantly better than everyone else in the conference. They pass both the scout test and the analytics test. They are impeccably constructed by GM Peter Chiarelli, who stretched every dollar in a season the cap came down to assemble this team. With that comes pressure. The young Red Wings can play loose, and the longer the series goes, the more the heat increases on the Bruins.

Red Wings: Depth on defense

This is an area the Bruins can expose, especially with the way coach Claude Julien rolls four lines. Niklas Kronwall is a rock and anchors the Red Wings defense, but after that it thins out. DeKeyser has become an invaluable addition to the Detroit blue line, but he has played all of two career playoff games. Brendan Smith is a bit of a wild card who might end up helping both the Red Wings and Bruins at different points in this series. With Jonathan Ericsson's availability in doubt, a likely pair of Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff will be one Julien's targets to get an advantage on, which his deep forward group can capitalize.

Prediction

This wasn't an easy draw for the Bruins in the first round, no reward for finishing with the NHL's best record. But ultimately, Boston's experience, depth up front and edge in goal will win out. Bruins in 6

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