The Boston Bruins will face a familiar playoff opponent in the first round of the NHL playoffs, and that opponent is not named the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Carolina Hurricanes will meet the Bruins in the opening round starting Monday night in Carolina. The two teams met in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, which ended in a four-game sweep by the Bruins. The following postseason saw the Bruins beat the Canes again in five games. The only time the Hurricanes have beaten the Bruins in the postseason was in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2009.
The Bruins have had recent success against Carolina in the postseason, but not this season. In three games between the two teams, Carolina is 3-0-0 and has outscored Boston 16-1. In fact, the Bruins did not score a five-on-five goal against Carolina in the three matchups. On paper, the Metropolitan Division Hurricanes have the edge. The head-to-head analysis is fairly obvious. The games were not that competitive. The Canes should have speed and offensive ability that the Bruins had trouble containing. The goaltending for Boston was not able to keep the Bruins close. But some of that analysis may have some disclaimers.
Both teams are very different now. Prognosticators must take into account that the first game between the two teams occurred in October. The second game was in January, a 7-1 Hurricanes win. Since retired, Tuukka Rask allowed five of those goals. And then in February, a 6-0 win for Carolina, the Bruins were without Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
At the trade deadline, each team added a key player. The Hurricanes acquired Max Domi from Columbus. Since joining the team, Domi has played 19 games with two goals and five assists. The Bruins added defenseman Hampus Lindholm from Anaheim. Lindholm missed some time with injury but had played ten games with Boston and tallied five assists. More importantly, Lindholm gives the Bruins a top-pair defenseman to play with Charlie McAvoy.
Here are some areas to keep an eye on in this series:
On Thursday night, the Bruins snapped a streak of twelve games without a power-play goal with two goals with the advantage against Buffalo. This is something to watch in the postseason. The Hurricanes have struggled on the power-play as well, scoring just two goals with the man advantage in April. This series could come down to who capitalizes on special teams.
Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy has still not announced his Game 1 starter, but all signs point to Linus Ullmark getting the nod. Ullmark is 26-10-2 this season with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. The 28-year-old netminder recorded his first shutout of the season on Thursday and has outplayed Jeremy Swayman in recent weeks. Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen has been terrific this season, posting a 35-14-3 record with four shutouts. Andersen has a sparkling 2.17 goals GAA and a .922 save percentage. However, Andersen suffered a left leg injury earlier in the month and could miss the beginning of the series. Backup Antii Raanta had to leave a recent game with an injury as well. The Bruins could have a sizable advantage if Andersen is not at 100 percent.
The Top Lines
This is where the series could be won or lost by either team. The Bruins have a top line with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk, one of the best in the league five-on-five. Marchand has struggled lately, with only an empty-net goal in his last thirteen games. But DeBrusk has been a great addition to the Bruins’ top line with 24 goals on the season. The Canes’ top unit of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen is as formidable as they come. Svechnikov has three goals this season against Boston, and Teravainen tallied three assists in the Canes’ most recent win over the Bruins.
Most data points to a Carolina series win, but something tells me that the Bruins pull out the series in six games. Goaltending is a major component, and Ullmark may be the more steady goalie option. It should be an entertaining series, but look for the Bruins to advance to the next round in an upset.