If any team in the NHL is skating into the postseason loaded for bear, it is the aptly named Boston Bruins.
The Bruins roared through the regular season, finishing with a record of 54-19-9 while compiling a league-best 117 points.
But the best team over the course of the 82-game grind that is an NHL season doesn't always prove to be the club that gets to take a victory lap with the Stanley Cup in June.
The Chicago Blackhawks were able to accomplish that feat last year, beating the Bruins in the finals. But the NHL's top regular season team has only sipped champagne from the Cup six times since 1994.
Still, few teams, especially in the Eastern Conference, can match the Bruins' overall depth, playoff experience and goaltending.
First up for the Bruins in their quest to win another Cup is a first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, who made the postseason cut for the 23rd consecutive year. Game 1 will be played at the Garden on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Although the Bruins and Red Wings are Original Six clubs, this is the first playoff meeting between these storied franchises since 1957. The Bruins will be going up against a Detroit club that overcame a series of injuries to key players by playing its best hockey when it mattered most, going 6-2-1 in the final nine games to grab the eighth and final playoff berth in the East.
Few teams in the NHL can match Detroit's playoff pedigree. The Red Wings last won the Cup in 2008, and played in the finals in 2009. Although retirement, age and injuries have taken their toll on Detriot in recent seasons, the Red Wings (39-28-15, 93 points) are still a dangerous club.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who led Team Canada to Olympic gold, is one of the best bench bosses in the NHL. Last season Babcock guided the seventh-seeded Red Wings past the Anaheim Ducks in a Western Conference first-round series, and Detroit then had a 3-1 lead on the eventual Cup champion Blackhawks before losing in seven games.
Daniel Alfredson and Niklas Kronwall are Detroit's top scorers with 49 points. Gustav Nyquist is the top goal scorer with 28 in 57 games. Red Wings' star Pavel Datsyuk returned in early April from a knee injury that sidelined him for some time, but the club will begin the first round without captain Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery).
Detroit has a proven goaltender in Jimmy Howard. But Howard had an off season, finishing with a 21-19-11 record and 2.66 goals against average. For Detroit to have any chance of upsetting the Bruins, Howard will have to be at the top of his game.
Meanwhile, the Bruins' lineup features many key holders from the Cup-winning squad of 2011.
Zdeno Chara (40 points, 17 goals) is still a tower of strength on defense. Center Patrice Bergeron (62 points, 30 goals) is playing the best hockey of his career. David Krejci (69 points), Milan Lucic (24 goals) and Brad Marchand (25 goals) continue to produce in the Bruins' system.
When it comes to newcomers, veteran Jarome Iginla (30 goals) has been a great addition to the lineup. The emergence of Carl Soderberg (48 points) and Reilly Smith (51 points) have been a huge plus for a Bruins' offense that produced 261 goals.
Torey Krug, Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski have been fixtures on a defense that has held strong despite injuries to Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid.
The Bruins would appear to have a huge edge in goal with Tuukka Rask, who has to be considered the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the best goalie in the NHL.
Rask was 36-15-6 with a 2.04 GAA and seven shutouts.
For whatever reason, first-round series have always been tough for the Bruins on Claude Julien's watch (remember the Bruins had to stage an epic comeback to get past the pesky Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime in Game 7 last spring).
This series will be no different.
Detroit will surely test the Bruins' will to win. But the Bruins are the far deeper/healthier team and will prevail in six games.
Stanley Cup prediction: Bruins over Ducks in seven games.
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