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Bruins Set To Open NHL Playoffs Against Detroit

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara battle for the puck in the second period of a game in Detroit on Nov. 27, 2013. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara battle for the puck in the second period of a game in Detroit on Nov. 27, 2013. (Paul Sancya/AP)

BOSTON — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Over the past several months, the Bruins and Celtics have been a tale of two seasons.

The Celtics ended one of the worst campaigns in team history on Wednesday night, finishing with 25 wins against 57 losses. But after one their best regular seasons ever, the Bruins are set to face the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

Game 1 is Friday night at the TD Garden.

The Bruins came within two wins of a championship last season, but the Chicago Blackhawks ruined the end of that chapter in Bruins history by hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup at the TD Garden.

This season the B’s roared back with NHL’s best record. Their 54 wins were the most by a Bruins team since the 1971-72 squad that went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Forward Brad Marchand says this season the team focused on being consistent from game-to-game rather than worrying about the standings.

“And we knew that if we did that, things would take care of themselves,” he said after practice Thursday. “We weren’t walking around every day talking about being No. 1 or anything like that. We were more worried about just playing a really good hockey game, and it worked out for us.”

The Bruins got key performances from some new acquisitions, including forward Loui Ericksson and NHL veteran Jarome Iginla, who scored 30 goals in his first season with Boston. Marchand says with that kind of depth on the roster, there’s been less pressure on the core group who have guided Boston to two Stanley Cup finals in the past three years.

But as the Bruins have been preparing to face the Detroit Red Wings, getting all of that depth onto the ice has been a problem. Thursday’s practice at the Garden was pretty routine, but several players missed the session on Tuesday because they had the flu. On top of that, forwards Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille have both been off the ice with injuries, but the team hasn’t ruled them out for the series with Detroit.

The Bruins and Red Wings are two of the NHL’s “Original Six” franchises. The teams met in two Stanley Cup Finals in the 1940s, but two of the younger players on this year’s teams have some real history between them. Boston forward Reilly Smith and Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith are brothers. They’ve faced each other in the regular season before, but 23-year-old Reilly says it was exciting to find out they’d meet in the postseason.

“I think in the build-up it’s more fun having him there. But when it comes down to it, he’s just going to be another player on a different team,” Reilly said. “A goal that both of us dreamed of is being in the Stanley Cup Finals. And even if we are brothers, I don’t think we’re going to take it easy on each other at all.”

“Every first round for us has been a challenge. It happens to a lot of teams. You got teams that have high expectations, you got teams that have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
– Bruins coach Claude Julien

But Reilly Smith says his parents will have divided loyalties during the best-of-seven series.

“I guess it’s kind of hard on them, but at the same time they’re really excited for both of us and happy that both of us have had the opportunity to do this,” he said.

The Bruins are top seed in the Eastern Conference, and they’ll have home-ice advantage as long as they’re in the playoffs. Detroit is the eighth seed. But don’t let those numbers fool you. In the past five years, more than 40 percent of the opening round series have been won by the lower seed. Last year, Boston nearly lost to a lower seed when Toronto took Boston to seven games in the first round. Boston coach Claude Julien says he hopes to avoid another close call this year.

“We talked about that earlier this week. It’s not just last year. It was the year before and the year before that. Every first round for us has been a challenge,” Julien said. “It happens to a lot of teams. You got teams that have high expectations, you got teams that have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

And even though the Bruins are coming off last year’s trip to the finals, Julien doesn’t want to hear Detroit talk about being overmatched.

“They’re in the playoffs because they’re a good team. That’s the respect that you give them,” Julien said. “It’s pretty obvious to us that they want to play the underdog card, which is not surprising. We just have to go out there and not care about whatever they say.”

After nearly a week of talk, it’s time to play. It takes 16 victories in the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins are looking for No. 1 Friday night.

Doug Tribou covers sports for NPR’s Only A Game. Follow him on Twitter: @DougTribou.

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