HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Bruins had the NHL’s best record, allowed the second fewest goals and scored the third most.
They have four strong lines, three solid defensive pairings and one of the best goalies.
And they were 1-3 in the regular season against their first-round playoff opponent.
The Detroit Red Wings will be back in town Friday night.
“They always give us some good games,” Boston coach Claude Julien said.
The Bruins gave them a terrible one Nov. 27 in Detroit, losing 6-1, their most lopsided loss of the season and one of only five games in which they allowed more than four goals.
“Everything we did tonight was just a disaster,” Julien said then.
Most everything they’ve done since then has been impressive, going 38-10-9. For the season, the Bruins outscored opponents by 84 goals while Detroit was outscored by eight.
Outstanding goaltending by Tuukka Rask, who led the NHL with seven shutouts, a combination of youth and experience and the all-around brilliance of center Patrice Bergeron make the Bruins favorites.
Bergeron played with his usual excellence defensively and scored 30 goals, one less than his career-high in 10 seasons, all with the Bruins.
“It’s the best I’ve seen him,” Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said Monday. “The whole two-way component of his game is so good, it’s always good. It’s not by accident you hear his name in the Hart Trophy conversation” for MVP.
Jarome Iginla, a 17-year veteran, also scored 30 goals after signing as a free agent in the offseason. He’s fit in seamlessly on a team with 14 of its 18 top skaters, plus Rask, who played in last season’s playoffs.
“If they were coming into the playoffs for the first time, it might dominate their mind all day, like ‘what’s it going to be like?’ ” Chiarelli said. “These players know what they have to do.”
Many of those players were on the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11. Last season the Bruins made it to the final where they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Then they traded Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars and received Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson. They had up-and-down seasons while Seguin tied for fifth in the NHL with 37 goals.
“We went into that whole venture to improve our team and we have improved our team. So there’s no real vindication,” Chiarelli said. “And there’s no secret to the quality of player that we traded. It was not a surprise that he’s doing what he’s doing.”
The Bruins are relatively healthy despite finishing Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres without three forwards. Chris Kelly missed the game with back spasms, Bergeron left after the second period with a minor injury and Daniel Paille was helped off the ice midway through the third period after a collision with Jake McCabe left him dizzy.
Bergeron is expected to play, and Julien said Sunday that Paille was “much better.”
The Bruins defense remained stingy despite the absence of Dennis Seidenberg since Dec. 27 and Adam McQuaid since Jan. 19. Chiarelli said Seidenberg, who had knee surgery, isn’t expected to return for the postseason, while the team is being careful about McQuaid’s recovery from a thigh injury.
Without them, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevin Miller, all 26 or younger, have played regularly. Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk are the other two defensemen among Boston’s top six.
“One of our major themes going into the year was integrating the young defensemen, and I think (Julien has) done a good job,” Chiarelli said. “We had the luxury a little bit of these players who played the year before in real tense times in the playoffs.”
Now they must try to stop a team that values puck possession rather than dumping it into the offensive zone and chasing it.
But the Bruins are deep with six players scoring more points than the Red Wings’ leaders — Daniel Alfredsson and Niklas Kronwall with 49 — and five with at least 20 goals to one for Detroit.
“The top two lines cancel each other out, so your third line becomes important. You saw that with the year we won,” Chiarelli said.
And the fourth line of Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton has been together for several seasons.
“I’ve liked the look of that line,” Chiarelli said. “It’ll be key to our success.”
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