'Great respect' between Bruins, Wings

'Great respect' between Bruins, Wings
April 14, 2014, 2:45 pm
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BOSTON – Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has always been an honest customer with his thoughts and statements, and he wasn’t avoiding an admission that facing the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs will be a challenge. Certainly the Bruins will be favored as the Eastern Conference’s top seed taking on a Detroit team that didn’t qualify for the postseason until the final days of the regular season.

But Chiarelli also watched his team lose three of the four games against the Red Wings this season, knows his team hasn’t won a game at Joe Louis Arena since 2007 and has a healthy dose of respect for the entire Detroit organization. That goes all the way from proven Stanley Cup champions like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall to stern head coach Mike Babcock and brilliant GM Ken Holland running the show in Hockey Town.

Clearly you don’t get into the Stanley Cup playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons by accident, the longest active streak among the four major pro sports, but still lagging a bit behind the amazing 29-year run of playoff appearances for the Boston Bruins from 1967-96.

Countless times in the last seven years both Chiarelli and Claude Julien have pointed to the Detroit Red Wings as the NHL model while building the Bruins back into Stanley Cup champs. So it's clear the river of respect runs deep for two Original Six teams that haven't met in the playoffs since 1957.

“I have great respect for [the Detroit] organization, great respect for Kenny Holland, Mike Babcock, the Ilitch family. I followed them for a lot of years — maybe that long, 23 years. I got to know [Ken Holland] a little better during the Olympics,” said Chiarelli. “He’s very bright. He looks at things a lot of different ways, a lot of different angles, to get a solution.

“Then you can see that in their development — they like developing people in the minors, but they also find players elsewhere in trades and in free agents, and that’s what we try and do. I have respect for Mike Babcock. He’s a really sharp guy. I got to sit in on their coaches’ meetings in advance of the Olympics and during the Olympics, and he’s very, very bright. I have a lot of respect for them, but now they’re competitors on the other side of the ice, so we’ll figure out a way to beat them.”

Combine that established Detroit old guard with some of the young guns on the Detroit roster, and the Bruins have a big challenge waiting for them when they host the Red Wings in Game 1 of the playoffs on Friday night.

“They’re a classic puck possession team. You can tell they’re very well coached. For a team that skates, a team that moves the puck well, they’re strong on the puck. I think that’s a bit of a trickle-down from guys like [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk, who are among the best puck-strippers in the league,” said Chiarelli. “I think their defensemen are good — they’re a little young, we’re young too on the D. They’ve got a good goalie.

“They won the season series against us — we played really poorly a couple of games. I’ve watched them quite a bit down the stretch, and they’re a good team. They’ve got injuries, [but] they’ve got young guys that are performing well. It’s a different ballgame in the playoffs, but certainly they’ve got speed, and they’ve got some youth.”

Many of the Detroit’s strengths will allow them to potentially exploit the Bruins: the speed, the skill, the mixture of youth and experience, and the sheer talent of the Red Wings combined with an unwillingness to devolve into an alley fight with the Bruins are thing that have challenged Boston in the past. The coin flips both ways, obviously, and that means many of Boston’s strengths can take advantage of a Detroit team that isn’t nearly as physically imposing as the Black and Gold.

Like so many other playoff encounters, the blueprint for the Bruins will be to wear down the Red Wings over the course of the best of seven series, and discourage the youthful speed and skill of Detroit. Still, there is no denying that the Red Wings are a tough first round draw for the NHL’s best team headed into the playoffs, and it’s not likely to be an April romp for the Black and Gold.