DETROIT – The Red Wings have another tough battle on their hands Wednesday when they host the best team in the Eastern Conference at Joe Louis Arena.
But don’t count out the Red Wings against the streaking Boston Bruins, who are riding an unparalleled 15-1-1 stretch that includes a club-record nine straight road wins.
“Machine-like right now for sure,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “When you got it going, they obviously feel good about themselves. Since the Olympic break they’ve been outstanding. I don’t know if anyone in the league is really surprised. We all think they got a good team.”
But don’t count out the Wings, who were 5-1-2 at home last month.
Detroit has defeated the Bruins twice this season, just one of four teams to do so. The Red Wings have out-scored Boston, 10-7, including a 6-1 victory in November.
“I don’t know. We’ve played well,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “I don’t know what it’s been. I think we play similar type systems. Babs and their coach (Claude Julien) are pretty good friends so that’s maybe why there is a similarity between the two teams.”
The red-hot Bruins haven’t lost in regulation on the road in 16 games (10-0-6), establishing a new point streak franchise record set during the 1940-41 season (9-0-6).
The Bruins are getting offensive contribution from everywhere, though Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla are gaining most of the headlines lately. Bergeron is riding an eight-game point streak, and Iginla registered a league-high 12 goals in March, earning top billing in the NHL’s player of the month recognition.
“Bergeron I think is an elite player,” Babcock said. “He’s like the conscience of the team, he does it right. He can drag the rest of the guys into battle. (David) Krejci is a real good player. That line with (Milan) Lucic and Iginla is going. Iggy is like he’s got new life. He’s energized and he looks that way when he plays. Not just that he’s scoring but just in the hop in his step and the way he’s playing. They got good depth and veterans in the third and fourth group that play real well. (Carl) Soderberg has been a good player for them. (Chris) Kelly, but also the (Gregory) Campbell unit plays real well and then their back end even with injuries they’ve done a good job. They look like a good club to me, it should be a lot of fun.”
It’s possible that the Red Wings will get Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup. The superstar center said Tuesday that he will participate in Wednesday’s morning skate and that he'll be a “game-time decision.”
However, Babcock was under the impression that Datsyuk – who has missed the past 15 games and 29 of 33 games with a knee injury – was planning to return Friday against Buffalo.
“Someone told me he’s playing Friday, I don’t know,” Babcock said. “I spend my time worrying about the players that are playing, so if I hear he’s in tomorrow, I’ll start worrying about him then.”
Getting on top of the Bruins and establishing a forecheck deep in the offensive zone will be a major key for the Red Wings.
“They play a little bit different than most teams,” Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson said. “They forecheck hard when they can but if they don’t have good pressure they’re going to sit up in the neutral zone and they’re really good at it. They make it really tight in the neutral zone, and then in their end they’re tough to get a forecheck on because they use their D really well going from one side to the other. They kind of want you to commit and then they throw a cross-ice pass wide and open you up that way creating a lot of their offense from that. So spot the puck in good areas in their end and then get the forecheck from there. That’s going to be a key for our success.”
Should the Red Wings finish the regular season with the second wild-card spot, Wednesday’s game will be a preview of a first-round playoff series, though goalie Jimmy Howard doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s a totally different beast when it comes to the playoffs,” said Howard, who has a 3-1-0 record and 2.21 goals-against average in four career starts versus Boston. “I think everybody ratchets their game up. Something like that I don’t really believe.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose