It's interesting to note that the Boston Bruins will draw as their opening round opponent the only team to defeat them three times this season. Not exactly the walkover a top seed and President's Trophy Cup winner expects as the proverbial sacrificial lamb.
After Detroit bowed 4-1 at the beginning of the season, they reeled off three consecutive victories over Boston with their latest triumph occurring on April 2nd when Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard stole the show and led the team to a 3-2 win despite being outshot 35-20. Boston's Tuukka Rask had an uncharacteristically pedestrian performance, stopping only 17 of 20 shots.
Let's Break it Down
The Bruins should be concerned about the Red Wings on Friday night. While all teams struggle through injuries, Detroit defeated the Bruins in Boston two weeks ago without the services of Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Daytsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. That's 134 points this season that was watching instead of skating in that 3-2 victory. Detroit will have the luxury of suiting up Alfreddson and Daytsyuk but Zetterberg is still on the shelf for the beginning of this series.
Perhaps the biggest question mark concerns the play of Wings netminder Jimmy Howard. It was in fact Howard who earned the game's number one star in their victory over the Bruins when last the teams met in Boston but Howard has struggled at times this season and has not been the consistent performer he has been in the past. During a particularly trying stretch Howard was literally playing for his starting job as the coach began to turn his lonely eyes to backup Jonas Gustavsson. However, Howard pulled out of his funk and has been traditionally solid in the postseason but even on his best day he's no Tuukka Rask.
When it comes to defense Boston is about as good as it gets. They not only have one of the most talented and physical corps of blueliners but those boys can produce offense. Big Z, Zdeno Chara, may be 37-years-old but nobody has mentioned that to his body. The 6'9" goliath has not lost a step and has even been employed as a forward on the power play this season so his big body can cause havoc in and around the opponent's crease. The Bruins are knee-deep in defense and they make opposing forwards pay when they cross the blueline into their zone.
Free NHL Pick
Those who question the Bruins first round mentality hearken back to last year's first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins were overwhelming favorites in NHL odds against the Leafs but found themselves in a Game 7 and down by three - count'em three - goals midway through the third period. It looked bleak but Boston mounted an historic comeback and won the game 5-4 in overtime.
Personally I look at this as a boon for the Bruins rather than a bad omen. Boston has learned that no team is to be taken lightly and Detroit potentially poses a much sterner first round test than the Maple Leafs did last year. Yes, the Leafs gave the Bruins all they could handle but it was a lackadaisical Boston team that allowed Toronto to make it a series. I cannot imagine a scenario that would have Claude Julien not hammering this home at each and every practice leading up to Friday's game.
So here's the deal boys and girls. Boston should win this game and should win this series but the NHL odds are seducing me to take a flier on the Wings in Game 1 for my NHL picks. Don't bet the ranch but if you want what should be pretty good bang for your buck you could do worse than Detroit +170.
Hockey Picks: Red Wings +170 at Bet365.com