The Boston Bruins are the top-seeded team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were expected to beat the Detroit Red Wings, a team that found its way into the postseason during the last week of the regular season.
But as history has proven repeatedly, the expected is not always what happens in the NHL's second season.
Yet the Bruins were able to accomplish exactly what most anticipated would happen in the Eastern Conference First Round, winning the best-of-7 series in five games. After losing 1-0 in Game 1 on a late goal by Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, the Bruins showed their skill and depth while rolling off four straight victories.
The Bruins advance to face the Montreal Canadiens, their most bitter rival, in the second round of the playoffs. But before we look ahead to what will be an emotional and intriguing Eastern Conference Second Round series, let's look back at how the Bruins were able to so effectively tame the Red Wings.
Doing the Dougie: A Boston team that prides itself on its defensive depth may have added another game-breaker on the blue line in second-year man Dougie Hamilton, who had a coming-out party of sorts in this series.
On several occasions, Hamilton took over the game with his skating skills and ability to read the play in the offensive zone. In Game 5, his three-zone rush confounded the Red Wings, including the usually unflappable Datsyuk, and laid the foundation for the game-opening goal by Loui Eriksson. Detroit never recovered, dropping a 4-2 decision that ended their season.
Hamilton finished the first round with a goal and three assists for four points, one behind Torey Krug for the team lead among defenseman. He did that while playing 17:12 per game, the lowest average time on ice among Boston's regular defensemen.
Power surge: The Red Wings scored six goals in this five-game series. The Bruins scored six power-play goals. That, as much as anything else, separated these teams.
Zdeno Chara led the way with two power-play goals and proved elusive by playing both high and low in the Bruins' man-advantage schemes. Defensemen Hamilton and Krug also had power-play goals, as did forwards Reilly Smith and Eriksson.
It wasn't as if Detroit gave the Bruins a ton of chances; Boston had 16 power plays in the five games (3.2 per game). The Bruins were just insanely effective, clicking on 37.5 percent of their chances. None of the other 15 teams in the playoff field has topped 30 percent, and only four others are above 25 percent.
Four-ward thinking: The Bruins dressed the same 12 forwards for each of the five games. Yes, they would have liked to have had Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly at their disposal, but both veterans remain unavailable due to injuries. Instead, little-used Jordan Caron and rookie Justin Florek were inserted in the lineup and played well enough in third- and fourth-line roles to allow the Bruins some continuity through the forward lines. Their effectiveness also allowed coach Claude Julien to roll four lines throughout the series, which kept everyone fresh late in games. That practice paid huge dividends in the overtime of Game 4 when the Bruins looked the fresher team for much of the extra time.
Tuukka Time: Tuukka Rask, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL's regular season, lost none of his momentum upon in the playoffs. The Red Wings managed a respectable 152 shots against the Finnish goalie; he turned aside 146 of them, displaying a confidence that seemed, at times, to unnerve the Detroit shooters. Rask's 1.16 goals-against average and .961 save percentage are tops among playoff goalies with at least four starts in the 2014 tournament.
History lesson: Boston knew what it was supposed to do and did it. After rallying from a one-game deficit in the series, Boston took a stranglehold of things by winning both games in Detroit for a 3-1 series lead. The Bruins followed that by making sure things were finished in Game 5.
There was no interest in giving the Wings life as the Bruins have flirted with comebacks by the oppositions and Game 7s in the first round far too often in the recent past. In 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers came all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit in the second round to become a part of hockey history. Last spring, the Toronto Maple Leafs erased a 3-1 series deficit in the first round and pushed higher-seeded Boston to overtime of Game 7 before losing.
That didn't happen this time; Boston got the lead in the series and never relinquished its grip in pulling away from the Red Wings to earn a significant layoff before the next round.