The Detroit Red Wings are a class organization. They’re part of the Original Six family. The old guard of hockey has an understanding amongst themselves that they treat each other with courtesy and profound respect. (That lesson is sometimes lost when facing the Montreal Canadiens, but that is an argument for another day.) They were an eight seed who faced an awful lot of lost games to injury this season. Even as an eight seed, they were a team that took the Bruins to task in the regular season. Their 6-1 shellacking of the Black and Gold might have been the B’s worst loss all season.
That loss galvanized both the Bruins respect of the Red Wings, and their motivation to improve. The Red Wings were tough customers for the Bruins this year. They bested the Black and Gold three out of four times in the regular season. (Montreal fans seem to remind of us that too, but that is also an argument for another day.) They are a team that relied on speed and finesse, the rapier to the Bruins battleaxe. When Detroit plays to their identity, they are a team that could easily bedevil the Bruins. Injury and illness ran rampant among key players in Detroit, and the loss of their number one goalie Jimmy Howard put the Wings in danger in the last two games.
The Red Wings fought. This was not a team that would roll over and die, and their game one win surprised a lot of Bruins fans. After game one, they played a style of hockey that was more Boston than Detroit. Boston happily accepted that kind of play, and the losses start to add up for the Wings. Still, this was a team that has taken an entire generation of fans with them through the postseason. That they did with practically half an AHL team is an outstanding, if not monumental achievement. The Red Wings organization should be proud of what they accomplished with what they had. It’s part of the reason I put Mike Babcock on my short list to win the Jack Adams this year. The other part was my respect for a coach who always had time to respect his opponent.
Coach Babcock’s interview after game five was a glowing review of the Bruins. He praised the Bruins team and Claude Julien for the series, and how he thought the Black and Gold bested them. “I think it’s just overall depth. They’ve got good players. Some teams have got a real good team and their goalie gets you started, gets the opposition started. This kid [Tuukka Rask] doesn’t get you started. Not only does he stop the puck, he plays the puck good, so it’s harder to get in on their D. Their back end is left and right-hand shots. When you set up a team, if you can have left and right-hand shots, it makes it way easier to move the puck through the neutral zone. They’re at the right time.”
The respectful attitude doesn’t just lie with their coach, their captain Henrik Zetterberg has been part of their success year after year, and his opinion of the Bruins was no less positive.
“They really stick to their structure, they have been doing that for two to three years now and they know it works. We haven’t really gone through that with this group. We get away from playing playoff hockey and we play against a team like Boston and they take advantage of that. I think if we look at them, they roll four lines, they do the same things, they get the puck out, they get the puck in. When the other team gives them an opportunity they take advantage. It is impressive, they are a good team but they know how to win, they have been there.”
Can you imagine Michel Therrien or Brian Gionta being that gracious? No, not likely.
Congratulations to the Detroit Red Wings on their twenty-third straight run to the playoffs. Thank you for reminding us in the regular season that there is more than one style of hockey that breeds success on the ice. Thank you for kicking our butts on occasion (and in one instance, picking them up off the ice and handing them back to us). It made the Bruins a better team. Thank you Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson for being outstanding goalies. A huge *stick tap* to Pavel Datsyuk who reminded the B’s (and especially their fans) that ‘Datsyukian’ is a word that is still used with reverence and awe in Boston. Henrik Zetterberg, this Bruins fan will likely purchase on of your jerseys. You are a future Hall-of-Famer and a sterling example to the other twenty nine men who wear the “C” on their chest.
My last stick tap goes out to Brendan Smith. You showed us that you’ve got an incredible hockey family, and it was an awkward pleasure to watch you and your brother Reilly spar in the series.
Thank you again for a fantastic series, and thank you for being another reason why hockey is the greatest sport on Earth.