DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings’ motto heading into their first round series with the Boston Bruins seems to be, ‘They can’t hit what they can’t catch.’
“They are a hard, big and strong team,” Tomas Tatar said. “If you want to avoid a hit you have to be fast and move the puck fast, skate a lot, just try to beat the D by your speed.
“We have lots of fast guys,” Tatar continued. “That’s why I think the Bruins have a problem with us. We just have to use it against them. It’s going to be a hard matchup, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”
“We’re a pretty speedy team and that’s been in our game plan to use our speed,” Gustav Nyquist said. “Of course that’s something we’re going to try to use. They can skate as well. They’re probably a little bit bigger as a team than us, so we’ll try to skate as much as possible.”
“Their physical-ness from top to bottom,” Jimmy Howard said when asked what he feared the most from the Bruins. “Seems like every single guy is over 6-foot, 200 pounds and can skate. They’re physical. We’re going to have to cut guys off and not allow them to get on top of our defensemen.”
“We need to use our speed to slow them down, stay above their players, cut guys off, don’t give them anything easy,” Darren Helm said. “Get a good forecheck going and run their D. It’s going to be important. The more time we spend in their zone the better. It’s going to be a tough series.”
As big and burly as the Bruins seem to be, they only ranked 13th at the end of the regular season in hits with 2,008.
“No,” Johan Franzen said when asked if he was worried about the physical style Boston plays. “We’ve been talking about that for the last nine years that I’ve played here in the playoffs, how tough all of the other teams are but that’s usually not a problem for us.”
“I don’t think it worries us at all,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve played big teams in the past. I don’t think that’s been a factor when we played those teams. We have to utilize our speed and try and play as physical as we can and be heavy on the puck.”
The Wings finished 13 spots below in hits, totaling 1,621.
“You only have speed if you execute. If you don’t execute you have no speed,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Their focus will be to take our speed away by getting on the forecheck and making sure we don’t execute. Our focus will be first-time execution so we can have speed so we can play in their zone.
“They’re a big team and they want to be as physical and heavy as much as they can be,” Babcock added. “When you’re a quick team you want to get on them.”
The influx of young skaters due to injuries has helped the Wings’ speed game and they’ll need all of it going against a big, deep and skilled group of Bruin forwards, six of which had 51 points or more this season.
The Bruins rank third in the NHL in goals per game (3.15), while Detroit was 16th (2.65).
Boston’s blue line is just as intimidating led by 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.
“I think we’re actually a harder team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Babcock said. “I think we have the ability to play heavy. We have some smaller type players that have the ability to be physical. What sets them aside from anyone else is (Milan) Lucic and Chara. They have them, we don’t, but we have a lot of big bodies as well.”
If the Wings are able to get through all that they have a world class goalie to contend with in Tuukka Rask, who’s almost assured of earning a Vezina Trophy nomination.
The Wings did win the season series 3-1 with Boston, outscoring the Bruins, who have appeared in the Stanley Cup final two of the last three seasons, 13-9 in the process.
“It doesn’t mean much now, but we know that we can play with them,” Franzen said. “They also have a strong playoff history here lately. They’ve been going far for many years now so they know how to win in the playoffs, but so do we. It’s going to be a tough matchup and there are going to be some good games.”
“We’ve shown that we can handle the physicality,” Nyquist said. “They’re a good team and it’s going to be a challenge for us. They play physical but we’ve shown we can handle that in the past. That’s obviously something that we’re going to have to be ready for.”
This is the first meeting in the playoffs between this Original Six teams since 1957. The Bruins have won four of the series.