It could have been Detroit.
Before the Blackhawks faced the Kings in the Western Conference Finals last season, the Red Wings took Chicago to seven games before bowing out, putting a scare into the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Now, with realignment, the Red Wings have moved east — and become a significant stumbling block as the Bruins attempt to defend their Eastern Conference title.
“Who knows? They might have won the Stanley Cup,” said Bruins center Chris Kelly. “They’re a team that you need to get up for.”
And now they’re a division foe. The Red Wings, along with the Lightning and Panthers, have joined the Bruins in the newly formed Atlantic Division, and they come to town Saturday for their first meeting of the season with Boston.
“I think they’re an elite team,” coach Claude Julien said. “They always have been.
“They’re a good, experienced team. They’re a smart team, they play a good, smart game. That’ll certainly bring an element of an even bigger challenge for all the teams in our conference right now to add them in there.”
As Julien pointed out, the Red Wings aren’t exactly a new franchise coming in, one that will be playing out the string in the basement. They’ll be competing to win the division. They’ll make life tough for the Bruins.
“I think it’s good for our game,” Julien said. “I think it’s good for the fans here to see those teams a little bit more. An Original Six team is always welcome in the cities that have seen those teams for years.”
With the Red Wings comes Daniel Alfredsson, the former Senators captain who entertained the idea of coming to Boston this offseason. They also bring Pavel Datsyuk, one of the best two-way players in the NHL, along with Patrice Bergeron.
“Two great two-way players,” Julien said. “You saw Datsyuk in action here that one night [in the preseason] when we didn’t have Patrice in the lineup. You could see the type of damage he could do.
“There’s no doubt he’s an elite player. But we’re fortunate to have Patrice, who we feel is an elite player as well.”
Traditionally, the Red Wings are a team built on high-end skill players, as Julien said. They play a puck-control game, much more so than the Bruins. It’s something the Bruins admire — even if they play their own style.
“As much as we envy them, there’s a lot of things that they envy from us,” said Julien. “I don’t think we should have an inferiority complex here. But you do respect the way they play. They’ve been like that for many, many years.”
There was a near-miss for Reilly Smith and his brother Brendan in the 2010 Frozen Four. Had Reilly’s Miami (Ohio) team not lost to Boston College in the semifinals, it would have gone to the final against Wisconsin — Brendan’s team.
The pair, however, will square off Saturday with the Red Wings in town. They did see each other in Detroit for a preseason game, but this time it will matter.
“I think my parents are pretty happy about it,” said Reilly, who added that his parents won’t be at the Garden Saturday. “Might have to see them a little more because I think they’re planning a lot more road trips.
“Usually it’s pretty competitive against each other on the ice. We’ll see what happens.”
Reilly said the two have always been that way, whether it was hockey or basketball or lacrosse.
“It’s kind of just carried over into everything we’ve done,” Reilly said.
No rush on Soderberg
Carl Soderberg is making progress as he comes back from a left ankle injury, which he suffered in the Bruins’ final preseason game Sept. 27. He was placed on injured reserve and is eligible to come off for Saturday’s game, though Jordan Caron’s play in the season opener gives the Bruins more leeway. “It’s a hard injury to say, ‘Listen, he’s going to be in on Sunday or Monday,’ ” Julien said. “It’s hard to really pinpoint with that type of injury, but he is definitely getting better every day. I think he really is getting close. Hopefully, if there’s no setbacks, he should be on the ice soon.” . . . The second line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron, and Loui Eriksson is still finding its way. Bergeron said he’s not worried, that it will simply take time. “It’s like anyone going to another system, you need to adjust,” Bergeron said of Eriksson. “After a while, when you’re used to that system, you don’t think, you just execute. I think that’s what he’s doing right now. He’s used to something different, he just needs to get used to it. You can tell how good he is as a player.” . . . Julien said he might talk to Red Wings coach Mike Babcock about Team Canada while Detroit is in town. The two are serving together on the coaching staff for the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February.