Pregame in Detroit: Bruins Keeping Pace, as Wings Battle for Playoff Spot
DETROIT - When a team is rolling like the Bruins, it's tough to find a player in the room that isn't confident, that isn't positive, and that doesn't have the hunger to keep up the pace that has them at the top of the NHL.
On Wednesday morning at Joe Louis Arena, as Boston prepared to face Detroit for the teams' fourth and final meeting of the regular season, that feeling was widespread, both on the ice and in the locker room.
"You know, I think it’s definitely a good thing to see with the way we’re playing right now but I think everyone in here is confident - and just doesn’t want to let that go," said Daniel Paille, slowing down that last part word by word, to stress its importance.
This team, right now, does not want to lose. No team ever does. But the Bruins are 15-0-1 in their past 16 games and have won a franchise record nine on the road heading into Wednesday night's matchup with the Wings.
"There are a lot of positive vibes going around the dressing room and everyone wants to battle for one another and at this time of year, it’s extremely important," said Paille.
"We know that we’ve been kind of lucky in a couple games and I think that's been keeping us even-keeled going into the next game."
This sport can change quickly, from shift to shift, period to period, game to game.
Case in point: the Bruins' three previous meetings this season against their Eastern Conference Original Six foes, which came all the way back in October and November.
Boston took the first game, 4-1, and then dropped a 3-2 loss to the Red Wings a week later, when they did everything but come out on the winning end. In the teams' last meeting, Boston suffered its worst loss of the season, 6-1, in Detroit, the night before Thanksgiving.
"The first time we played them, we didn’t touch the puck. Second time, I thought we had a real close game in their building, and the third time in here, they weren’t that good," said Detroit Head Coach Mike Babcock. "Sometimes, you catch a team at the right time."
"Doesn’t look like we caught them at the right time [tonight]," Babcock went on. "Looks like they’re mowing everyone down right now."
"They’re rolling and their good players are scoring, they've got good team depth, they've got a good team, they've got excellent goaltending, so it will be an excellent test for us."
More than four months have passed since the last time the Bruins were in Detroit and had to label a performance "embarrassing." Being back at 'The Joe,' that tough loss was mentioned during pregame skate, but only as a side note.
"In here, we weren’t very good at all and they were extremely good so it was a big difference there in the two teams," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said from Joe Louis Arena, following the team's morning skate. "So, tonight just represents another challenge for both teams here. There’s always that possibility we could meet in the playoffs so I think both teams are going to be ready to play."
While it's a meaningful game for both, it's more significant points-wise for Detroit, sitting in the first Wild Card spot, at seventh place in the Eastern Conference, just one point up on Columbus.
The Bruins, meanwhile, are locked into the postseason, and have only the Presidents' Trophy left to chase before hitting reset for the playoffs. Entering Wednesday night, their 110-point total is one point above St. Louis.
"It’s not talked about in the room but we know it’s there," said Julien, of the chance to finish first in the League. "But as I said before, our priority number one is not to finish top in the League more than it’s about, we’re ready for the playoffs and playing well."
For the Black & Gold, "playing well" means playing the right way - paying attention to details, staying patient, using their strong forecheck to place the pucks in deep and control the game - or "sticking to the system," as Patrice Bergeron would say. They've been doing that now for more than a month.
"There are different excuses you can make at this time of year, and for us, to keep this consistency up and our level of play as high as it is, it’s — over my 7 years — the most consistent I’ve seen our team play," said Milan Lucic. "And we’re having a lot of fun doing it."
"We've just got to stay focused and not get complacent and keep doing this moving forward."
Soderberg, Krejci Likely Good to Go
Ryan Spooner was called up to Boston on an emergency basis Tuesday and traveled with the team to Detroit. The "emergency" status was due to David Krejci fighting through a sore throat and Carl Soderberg possibly needing to leave the trip to be with his expectant wife.
Krejci and Soderberg both joined in usual rushes during Wednesday's pregame skate, so the lineup appears status quo - for now.
"[Spooner’s] on emergency recall, so again, we don’t know — we’ve got a player who, his wife is pregnant, could be due any time now - so we’d have to wait and see about that."
Bruins' Rotating Defense
The Bruins have been implementing a seven defensemen rotation down the stretch, with Corey Potter the usual healthy scratch. Dougie Hamilton, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug have all been rotated in and out, taking turns joining Potter in the press box.
Rushes during pregame skate in Detroit showed Chara-Boychuk, Bartkowski-Krug, Meszaros-Miller and Potter-Hamilton, but not much can be read into that.
It's a process that will continue through the team's seven remaining regular season games, and could even continue into the playoffs.
"We’ve had more or less seven guys rotating in and out and as I said before, Corey Potter’s going to play some games here in this last little stretch here and we’re going make sure we have everybody going," said Julien. "But we’re putting guys in and out, and just because there are seven Ds that are going in and out, doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to cut to six guys either. It doesn’t mean that I can’t do that in the playoffs."
"We’ll play it by ear, we’ll see who were playing, we’ll see how everybody’s playing at that time, and if somebody’s struggling, you’re going to put your six best, but if they’re all playing well, what stops you from using all seven of them? So that’ll come with time."
Detroit will be without Pavel Datsyuk (knee, day-to-day) and Daniel Alfredsson (lower body, day-to-day) when facing Boston. Hit by injuries, they're also without Henrik Zetterberg (back, out rest of season), Jonathan Ericsson (finger, out rest of season), Stephen Weiss (sports hernia, out indefinitely), Daniel Cleary (knee, out indefinitely) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder, out indefinitely).
"They’re well structured and no matter what, even when you look at their injuries, anybody who is well structured is going to give you a good game, and they’re one of those teams," said Julien.