The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will tangle in the Eastern Conference Final, renewing a rivalry that marks the third time these teams have met in the post-season since the franchise moved away from Hartford and the fifth time overall. The last time the Hurricanes and Bruins met in the playoffs (2009), the Hurricanes took the Bruins out of the running in seven games.
That time around, Carolina went on to the conference final to be swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins. And that began a number of years of missing the playoffs outright, until this time around. Now, the Bunch of Jerks have punched their ticket through to the Eastern Conference Final by taking out the Washington Capitals in a demanding seven-game fight and handling the New York Islanders with a sweep.
The Bruins have played more hockey in the post-season this time out, dishing out the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games and then polishing off the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games. Boston will start their series against Carolina without the services of Charlie McAvoy, who was suspended one game for his illegal check to the head of Columbus’ Josh Anderson.
The Bruins finished the regular season with a 49-24-9 record, good for second in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, snagged the first wild card spot ahead. The Blue Jackets were just a point behind and grabbed the second, by the way.
When it comes to scoring, these teams are close. The Bruins average 3.08 goals per game and the Hurricanes average 3.09 goals per game thus far in these playoffs. Boston’s biggest offensive contributor, points-wise, has been Brad Marchand. He may hold rancour with interviewers and players alike, but the Bruins forward has collected 13 points – including eight assists – and his attack is always tough.
David Pastrnak has come alive for Boston at just the right time. While he started slow against the Toronto Maple Leafs, posting just an assist in his first three games, he’s gone on a tear lately and has 10 points in his last 10 games. That includes six goals, including two in a 4-3 Game Five win against the Blue Jackets.
David Krejci is the third Bruin with double-digits points, with 10 in 13 games. And then there’s Patrice Bergeron, dynamite in the dot and leading his team with four power play goals. He’s the key reason the Bruins are able to drive possession each night and his capacity to bring together his top line keeps his team in it.
The Hurricanes overwhelmed the defensive Islanders in the second round, outscoring them 13-5 and earning eight wins in their last nine playoff games. They’ll hope for more of the same oppressing offence as they face off against the Bruins. Goal-scoring starts with Teuvo Teravainen, who has six goals in 11 games for a total of nine points.
23-year-old Warren Foegele has been stellar. He has five goals in the playoffs and has been a game-changer for the Hurricanes. He got in Braden Holtby’s head in the first round and walked the punitive line more than a few times, but he’s also one of the most effective scorers on the team. He doesn’t shoot as much as he could, but that 31.3 percent shooting percentage is hard to argue with.
Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho have nine points apiece, including four goals apiece and five assists apiece. Aho’s been shooting the puck more (over twice as much), but Staal’s been driving possession for Carolina and is an integral part of getting the attack moving. His veteran presence will be a nice counterbalance for his club, especially against the more experienced Bruins.
The Bruins have been downright miserly, allowing just 2.15 goals against per game in these playoffs. They held off the speed of the fledgling Maple Leafs in the first round and took the Blue Jackets to task in the second, all while closing ranks around goalie Tuukka Rask. And, without question, that goaltending has made their defensive lives easier.
Losing Charlie McAvoy for one game won’t do the Bruins any favours, as he’s averaged almost 25 minutes of ice time a game and has six points. The 21-year-old is a plus-eight in the playoffs, but he has a dozen penalty minutes and will surely have the eyes of the league on him when he returns for Game Two.
Zdeno Chara continues to be the consummate veteran for Boston. He’s averaging 22:36 of ice time a game, putting him third behind McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. His accountable play has set the tone and he’s delivered three points. Torey Krug leads all Boston defenders with eight points in 13 games.
Jaccob Slavin leads the Hurricanes with 11 points, all assists. He’s been at the centre of much of Carolina’s offence and is behind only San Jose’s Erik Karlsson at his position. When you consider that Slavin’s point totals have amassed when playing against the opposition’s top lines and you consider that he’s averaging over 26 and a half minutes of ice time a game, you realize just how vital he is.
Justin Faulk averages 25:54 of ice time a game and has six points in 11 games. He’s a confident player with the puck on a string, evinced by his 39 shots on goal in the playoffs, and he fuels the power play. The Hurricanes could use more of his help on the man-advantage, as it’s been clicking at a miserable 10.53 percent.
Brett Pesce has been having a solid playoff run with six assists in 11 games. He averages 23:14 of ice time a game and he can move the puck, like all Carolina defencemen. His expertise has formed a big part of the Hurricanes’ crushing offence. Dougie Hamilton is second among Carolina blueliners with seven points in 11 games. He has three goals.
When the rubber hits the road for the Boston Bruins, Tuukka Rask is there. Perhaps the best goalie remaining in these playoffs, he’s seen every minute of the first two rounds. Rask is 8-5, with an astonishing 2.02 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. Against the Blue Jackets, he was 4-2 with a 1.71 goals against average. That’s lethal stuff.
Rask, the franchise leader in wins after he passed Cecil ‘Tiny’ Thompson this season, is probably the reason the Bruins are still in it. And when Boston’s been up against the wall, he’s even better. Rask is 3-0 in games where the Bruins either faced elimination or could finish up a series.
The Hurricanes are having some trouble settling the goaltending situation, at least on paper. Petr Mrazek has returned to practice and that’s a good sign, but Curtis McElhinney has been more than okay in his stead. The 35-year-old has three wins in this year’s post-season, including two wins in his first two playoff starts ever, and he has a goals against average of 1.56.
So if Mrazek is ready for Game One, does he get the nod? Rod Brind’Amour has a choice to make. Mrazek is 5-3 in these playoffs, with two shutouts and a 2.22 goals against average before he went down with a lower body injury in Game Two against the Islanders. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but McElhinney’s been unbelievable. Decisions, decisions.
In this battle between a Bunch of Jerks and the experienced Bruins, anything can happen. The Hurricanes have dealt with a theoretical defensive dynamo before and managed to overwhelm the Islanders with a sweep, so the same could happen here. Boston has played a lot in these playoffs, while Carolina is well-rested and raring to go with an eager fanbase.
If the Hurricanes can continue to marshal their defence and keep the Bruins back on their heels, they could win. And they will win. In six games.
(Photo credit: NHL.com)