Bruins Rivalries Revisited: Detroit Red Wings

The Hockey Writers

When the puck drops on the 2023-24 NHL season, the Boston Bruins will be celebrating their centennial. Joining the league as one of the Original Six, the Bruins have formed rivalries with many teams over the years. Today we’ll revisit their long-standing rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings.

Boston Bruins Rivalries Revisited
Boston Bruins Rivalries Revisited (The Hockey Writers)

Although not your prototypical Bruins rivalry, the two clubs have had their fair share of memorable moments over the past 100 years. While many of their clashes came during the Original Six era, they remain divisional rivals and are sure to have some meaningful games in the coming years. Here are some of the best memories between the two up until now.

Bruins Win First Ever Game Against Detroit on Nov 18, 1926

On Nov. 18, 1926, the Bruins took on the freshly minted Detroit Cougars, the name with which they entered the NHL. Detroit switched it to the Detroit Falcons in the 1930-31 season before becoming the Red Wings during the 1932-33 campaign.

In the first-ever meeting between the two, the Bruins picked up a 2-0 victory, with future Hall of Famer Duke Keats (inducted in 1958) picking up a goal and an assist. Charles Stewart was the Bruins’ goaltender on record, getting credit for the shutout.

Bruins & Red Wings Meet In The 1941 Stanley Cup Final

The Bruins and Red Wings’ first playoff meeting came in the 1941 Stanley Cup Final. The series was short-lived, as the Bruins’ top line featuring Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer, and Woody Dumart (also known as “The Kraut Line”) combined for 15 points. The Bruins outscored the Red Wings 12-6 throughout the four games, with the Kraut Line scoring seven goals.

Schmidt led the Bruins with three goals and four assists for seven points. The Cup Final also marked the last playoffs for the Kraut Line before the trio departed to fight in World War II during the following season. Goaltender Frank Brimsek allowed just six goals helping the Bruins win their third championship and second in three years.

Red Wings Top Bruins in 1942 Semi-Finals

Due to the ongoing war, both teams’ rosters looked very different than the season prior. The Bruins, without the Kraut Line, lost the series in two games, losing Game 1 by a score of 6-4 and Game 2 by a score of 3-1. The Red Wings moved on to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1943 Stanley Cup Final

The two Orignal Six franchises once again battled it out in the 1943 Stanley Cup Final. The Red Wings, for a second consecutive year, dominated the Bruins in the playoffs.

Sid Abel, Hockey Hall of Fame, 1969.

They outscored the Bruins 16-5 in the series, with Sid Abel, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, scoring one goal and five assists. Abel was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969 and was named one of the “100 Greatest NHL Players” in 2017. Art Jackson led the Bruins by scoring three of their five goals. The Red Wings shut out the Bruins in the final two games of the series.

Bruins and Red Wings Play Seven-Game Series in 1945 Semi-Finals

While playing against each other for the fourth time in five years, the two iconic clubs battled in a tightly contested seven-game series during the 1945 Semi-Finals. The Red Wings ultimately prevailed, narrowly beating the Bruins in three one-goal games.

Joe Carvath and Carl Liscombe led the Red Wings offensively, with Carvath scoring three goals and five assists for eight points and Liscombe adding four goals and two assists for six points of his own. The playoff meeting also marked the first taste of postseason action for Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay who was 19 years old at the time.

Kraut Line Returns, Ends Drought Against Red Wings

After losing their past three postseason matchups against the Red Wings, the Bruins received a huge boost when the Kraut Line returned home from the war. The trio remained every bit as effective as they were prior to their departure and led the Bruins past the Red Wings in the 1946 Semi-Finals.

The famed Bruins “Kraut Line,” with Bobby Bauer, Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart.

Schmidt, Bauer, and Dumart had five points apiece during the series, leading them to a Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Montreal Canadiens. However, the Bruins weren’t able to defeat their arch-rivals and lost in the Final.

Bruins Win 1953 Semi-Finals

After suffering a blowout loss in Game 1 of the 1953 Semi-Finals, the Bruins responded with four consecutive wins over the Red Wings. The Kraut Line was now a remnant of the past as Bauer had retired in 1952. Dumart was held pointless in the series, although Schmidt remained effective with three goals and one assist over the six-game battle.

The Bruins were instead led by a new line; Ed Sandford led the Bruins with six goals and two assists, while his linemates Johnny Pierson scored two goals and six assists, and Dave Creighton picked up three goals and four assists. The Bruins once again advanced to the Stanley Cup Final but again lost to the Canadiens. Sandford finished the playoffs leading in goals with eight and points with 11.

Bruins Top Red Wings Icons in 1957 Semi-Finals

The Red Wings, led by Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, and the previously mentioned Lindsay, weren’t able to overcome the Bruins during the 1957 Semi-Finals. Each of the Red Wings icons had strong performances in the series, as Howe had seven points, Lindsay had six points, and Delvecchio had five points throughout the five games.

Gordie Howe
Detroit Red Wings’ Legendary Gordie Howe

The Bruins were on the wrong end of a blowout in Game 2 and responded by winning the next three games to eliminate the Red Wings in five games. Cal Gardiner’s third-period goal eventually stood as the series clincher, pushing the Bruins into another Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Canadiens.

Johnny Bucyk Hits the 50-Goal Mark on March 16, 1971

When the two clubs met for a late-season matchup at the Detroit Olympia Arena, the Bobby Orr-era Bruins proved to be too much to handle for a struggling Red Wings club. Boston filled their opponents’ net, scoring 11 goals en route to an 11-4 win. Phil Esposito had a strong performance, with one goal and three assists during the game, but it was a different Bruins player who had a night to remember.


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Johnny “The Chief” Bucyk had a special night as he hit the 50-goal mark for the first and only time in his 23-year NHL career. He picked up two goals and one assist in the blowout win and finished the season with 51 goals and 65 assists for a career-high 116 points. He was named to the NHL All-Star Team and also won the Lady Byng Trophy for his play during the campaign. The Bruins dominated the Red Wings throughout the decade with a 35-9-9 record.

1985-86 Season Series Culminates With Fight Filled Affair

While the Bruins and Red Wings only played three times during the 1985-86 season, they capped off their season series with a fight-filled affair at Boston Garden. The Bruins had continued their 1970s dominance over the Red Wings into the 1980s, and that didn’t change in their first meeting of the campaign. On Oct. 12, 1985, the Bruins embarrassed their Original Six counterparts with a 9-2 win. Charlie Simmer scored a hat trick and added one assist in the contest.

Related: Bruins Rivalries Revisited: Toronto Maple Leafs

The two clubs had to wait until January for their next meeting, where they played each other twice in just three days. On Jan. 22, 1986, the Red Wings scored four goals on the power play leading them to a 6-5 overtime win. Three days later, back at Boston Garden, they met again and combined for a total of 136 penalty minutes. The fisticuffs began early and carried through the entire game as Red Wings’ tough guys Bob Probert and Joey Kocur dropped the gloves two separate times during the game. Bruins Brian Curran and Nevin Markwart each had two fights of their own in the contest.

Tempers Flare, Brawl Ensues on Nov. 2, 1991

While the rivalry from the Original Six era was long in the rearview mirror, and the two clubs were limited in how often they had the chance to play one another due to NHL expansion and realignment, that doesn’t mean things didn’t continue to get testy over the years whenever they did get a chance to meet.

On Nov. 2, 1991, at the Boston Garden, things got a little bit out of hand as a total of 130 penalty minutes were dished out. The Red Wings’ Marc Potvin dropped the gloves twice in the contest, as did Bruins’ defenseman Stephane Quintal. Of course, one of the NHL’s all-time greatest enforcers, Probert, was also involved, just as he was in the 1986 fight-filled affair.

As the game came to an end, all players on the ice squared off, and just as it appeared the rough stuff was over, Probert threw a cheapshot at one of the Bruins’ players causing tempers to flare once again. The referees finally gained control, and as the teams left the ice, Bruins fans weren’t shy about showing their displeasure toward the Red Wings players.

Bruins and Red Wings Don’t Meet Again Until the 2014 Playoffs

Following the 1957 Semi-Finals win, the Bruins didn’t play the Red Wings again in the postseason until the 2014 Playoffs, where they met in the first round. A combination of the Bruins missing the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons from 1960 to 1967, followed by the Red Wings making only two postseason appearances between 1966-67 and 1982-83, kept the two from enduring any more playoff battles.

Similar to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins’ rivalry with the Red Wings was also affected by the NHL realignment in 1981. Detroit, who played in the Norris Division, was moved to the Western Conference (Clarence Campbell Conference at the time) and didn’t make their return to the Eastern Conference until the 2013-14 season, where they joined the Bruins in the Atlantic Division.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In their first season back in the Eastern Conference, they met the Bruins in the first round of the 2014 Playoffs. Boston was shut out in the first game of the series but bounced back with four straight wins to knock off the Red Wings in five games. Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug shared the lead in points throughout the five-game battle, each with one goal and four assists. Milan Lucic scored a series-leading three goals, including the game-winner in Game 5.

Brad Marchand Brings Out His Best Against Red Wings

Current Bruins’ star forward, Brad Marchand, continues to climb the franchise’s all-time leaders lists. The super pest turned All-Star and became the Bruins’ all-time overtime goals leader in a contest against the Red Wings on March 6, 2018. He completed the natural hat trick with his 11th career overtime winner. He also picked up two assists for a five-point night in the Bruins 6-5 win.

On March 31, 2019, despite suffering a 6-3 loss against the Red Wings, he etched his name into the franchise record books once again by scoring the 26th shorthanded goal of his career. The goal put Marchand into first place for all-time shorthanded goals, surpassing former Bruins’ great Rick Middleton in the process.

Marchand always seems to bring his best game against the Red Wings, and he was at it once again when he made his return to the lineup against the Red Wings on Oct. 27 last season. He scored two goals and added an assist in his first game back from double hip surgery during the offseason. Overall, he has 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points in 37 career games played against the Red Wings.

What the Future Holds for the Bruins & Red Wings

With the Bruins entering the 2023-24 season in unfamiliar waters without longtime top center and former captain Bergeron, many expect that they will regress from their historic performance in 2022-23. However, they still have one of, if not the best goaltending tandem in the league, backed by a strong defensive corps, and will be primed for playoff contention.

The Red Wings made a significant splash during the offseason by acquiring Alex DeBrincat from the Ottawa Senators. Detroit’s general manager, Steve Yzerman, also was busy at the opening of free agency as he signed six players to fill NHL roles this season. They will continue to push for a return to postseason action, and while playing in the same division as the Bruins, points will be at a premium when the two clubs clash.

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As part of the Bruins’ centennial season celebrations, they will be having “Era Nights” throughout the campaign to commemorate different eras of franchise history. The first one will be held when the Red Wings visit TD Garden on Oct. 28 to celebrate the early years of the franchise from 1924-1959. It’s no surprise the Red Wings are their opponent for the celebration considering the seven playoff battles that the two had during that time period.

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