In the only first round matchup that features two Original Six teams, there will be plenty of storylines worth following for fans of both teams. The matchup of two of the most storied franchises in the history of the NHL facing off as divisional rivals in the postseason basically sells itself. Beyond the prestige, the current rosters of these two teams lend themselves to intrigue, a benefit that everyone watching will realize. Here’s the top five storylines to monitor in this series.
1. Brendan Smith vs. Reilly Smith
Whenever two relatives face off in the playoffs, it’s noteworthy. This matchup is a bit more interesting on a number of fronts. First off, both players burst onto the scene this year in their first full NHL seasons. Brendan averaged more than 18 minutes of ice time per game as a defenseman for the Red Wings, while Reilly scored 20 goals for the Bruins in his first season in Boston. As you may have pieced together, Reilly is a forward and Brendan is a defenseman, meaning the two could lockup on a regular basis in this series. Not only will the brothers be on opposing squads, but they will be competing face-to-face on the ice, a battle that you will not want to miss.
2. Daniel Alfredsson: Jarome Iginla Part II
During the last offseason, the Bruins were one of the finalists in the sweepstakes for Daniel Alfredsson’s services. Ultimately, he chose to go the Detroit Red Wings, opening the door for Jarome Iginla to finally arrive in Boston. As you will recall, Iginla had chosen the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Bruins just four months prior to free agency, at the NHL’s Trade Deadline. Boston bounced the Penguins from the postseason in four games and will look to get that same revenge on Alfredsson’s Red Wings this time around. While the fan hatred of Alfredsson wasn’t close to what Iginla experienced in Boston last season, the organization will undoubtedly feel spurned, adding motivation to what should already be a highly motivated team in Boston.
3. Patrice Bergeron vs. Pavel Datsyuk
Watching either of these players is a treat as they bring it in every facet of the game. Both are regarded as elite defensive centers, annually earning praise in the Frank J. Selke Trophy voting, while playing in every situation and taking key face-offs for their teams. All the more impressive is the offensive production that Bergeron and Datsyuk provide, as their defense alone would merit their spot on the roster. This season saw Bergeron top the 30 goal mark for the first time since the 2005-2006 season when he recorded a career-high 31 goal. Although Datsyuk was hampered by injuries this season, limiting him to just 45 games, he was still able to put up 17 goals and 20 assists. This matchup is especially interesting as the two centers are expected to square off constantly, pinning each team’s best defensive center against one another. If Datsyuk is at all slowed by injuries, Bergeron will neutralize him and Boston will have a decided edge. Will Datsyuk remain healthy, and if so, can he match the younger Bergeron?
4. Will Henrik Zetterberg return in time?
Much like Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg has had some injuries issues this season as well. Zetterberg has been out of action since before the Olympic Break, resulting in 37 missed games. When he was on the ice, Zetterberg contributed 48 points in 45 games, better than a point per game average. The early reports suggest that Zetterberg won’t be able to return in time for the Red Wings first round series, but if he could, he’d provide Detroit with a major boost. On the flip side, if he doesn’t make it back, the Red Wings will face an uphill battle against the top seed Boston Bruins
5. Tuukka Rask vs. Jimmy Howard
Tuukka Rask built on his run to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring with a stellar, and possibly Vezina worthy, regular season. Directly in the middle of that campaign, he led the Finnish Olympic team to a Bronze Medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Jimmy Howard had a pedestrian regular season, as opponent’s put up 2.66 goals against per game, registering a winning percentage just over .500. In terms of playoff experience, Howard has a losing record, winning just 20 of his 42 games in the postseason. Rask, despite losing two series in painful fashion, has won 60% of his starts, good enough for four series wins in seven attempts. If the Red Wings are to shut down the Bruins offensive attack, which ranked third in the league in goals per game, Howard will have to elevate his game in this series.
Can the Red Wings upset the Bruins? Will Boston shutdown Detroit like they shutdown Pittsburgh last season? Let me know what you think in the comments below or on twitter @kirkvance.