When the Detroit Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference, their path to the Stanley Cup playoffs was supposed to be easier than it had been in the West. But they tempted fate all season, until finally clinching a playoff spot, their 23rd in a row, in the final week. Detroit has always been a team that no team wants to face in the playoffs, and despite their performance in the regular season, this year should be no different.
Detroit Red Wings
(8th in the Eastern Conference, 4th in the Atlantic Division)
Preseason expectations: Detroit entered the season with high expectations, despite finishing the regular season last year in the 7th spot. In the playoffs, the Red Wings surprised the Anaheim Ducks, then took the eventual-Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks to the brink of elimination. They lost some forward depth in the offseason, but the team was still expected to make the playoffs with ease.
How they got here: Detroit was expected to rely on their old standbys, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, to get them into the playoffs, but injuries and age lessened the impact those two players had on this season. Instead, Detroit made the playoffs thanks in large part to one player: Gustav Nyquist. The forward never made much of an impact during his first few years in the league, but it was his performance from the end of January to April that allowed Detroit to wrack up the wins.
Key Players: F Gustav Nyquist, G Jimmy Howard, F Pavel Datsyuk, F Henrik Zetterberg
Major Moves: Aside from the surprising performance from Nyquist, Detroit also acquired the savvy veteran Daniel Alfredsson in the offseason. Alfredsson put up steady numbers throughout the season, and helped carry the Red Wings when Datsyuk and Zetterberg went down with their respective injuries during the season. Youngster Tomas Tatar also took another step forward in his development, putting up a respectable 38 points this season.
Who they will face in the first round: Being the 8th seed, Detroit will face the “Beast of the East” in the first round, the Boston Bruins. Despite the low seed, the Red Wings should never be underestimated, especially considering the season series between the two teams falls heavily in Detroit’s favor. Detroit won three out of four games against the Bruins this year, including a 6-1 dominant effort in late November.
How they will fare: Both teams have a wealth of playoff experience on their respective squads, and both know what it takes to go all the way. On paper, the Bruins hold the advantage in just about every aspect. They have a better defense, a deeper forward corps, and a steadier goaltender. Coaching is where the Red Wings hold the advantage over Boston, and that may be all that is required for Detroit to upset the top seed in the East. Still, the Bruins are favored in the series for a reason.
Prediction: Bruins in 7
Conn Smythe Winner: Gustav Nyquist has carried Detroit this far, and there is no reason why he cannot continue to do so. When players like himself run on a hot streak, they become almost unstoppable. The Red Wings are long shots to win the Cup, but if they do, Nyquist will likely be a big reason why.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
The Detroit News
Detroit Free Press