( Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports )

By Leon Lifschutz  |  Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz 

The Boston Bruins dropped three straight in their round-robin matchups while the Carolina Hurricanes won three straight to easily sweep their play-in series versus the New York Rangers.  The ‘Canes will be anxious to avenge last year’s sweep at the hands of the Bs in the conference finals while Boston will be ready to show why they were this year’s best regular-season team.  Let’s get into the series preview!

Top 3 Storylines to Watch For

  1. “Real Games” – The Bruins never seemed to approach their round-robin games with a ton of urgency.  Head Coach Bruce Cassidy tinkered with the forward combos and made sure to work in their 7th defenseman much as one might expect from pre-season play.  Starting goalie Tuukka Rask stressed after the round-robin that the team was now ready to start playing “real games”.  Perhaps most telling, Brad Marchand has yet to lick anyone’s face or really get too engaged with opposing players.  Fans will be excited to see their beloved Bruins put the pedal down.  But will they be able to flip the switch against Carolina who has already played do-or-die games?
  2. The Bruins (lack of) Offense – The Bruins managed 4 goals in 3 games and were paced in goal scoring by 4th liner Chris Wagner.  The Bruins top line all shot 0% though they did have chances especially in game 3 against Washington.  Is the Bruins lack of production due to a lack of grit and desire, a streak of poor percentages, or a little bit of both?  And can they reverse the trends in time to win 4 out of 7?
  3. Carolina’s Injuries on DefenseCarolina is without the services of former Bruin Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce, two key players at the top of their lineup.  Hamilton in particular drives plays at high rates and compliments the ‘Canes quick attack approach.  Carolina does have depth on D but missing stars is always a cause for concern.  To some degree, attrition can be the storyline of the playoffs. The Bruins seem relatively healthy going into this first-round matchup, a favorable edge they hope to maintain.




Lineup Card Taken from dailyfaceoff.com

(ed. note – it is Nick Ritchie on 3rd line for the Bruins, not Brett)

The Bruins have an edge at the top of the lineup but the Hurricanes top line of Aho-Svechnikov-Terevainen is sublimely talented and comes into this series on fire.  The addition of Vincent Trochek into the top-6 was a big deadline day add for the Canes.  Carolina has a formidable bottom-6 with playoff experience and plays the game exactly how Coach Rod Brind’Amour likes it to be played, fast, and heavy.  The Bruins finally have their full lineup at hand and seem to have settled on their line combos.  They are deep at center ice and have hopefully found some chemistry on the wings for Krejci and Coyle.



Lineup Card Taken from dailyfaceoff.com

Minus Hamilton and Pesce, the ‘Canes still have a good D core.  GM Don Waddel looks brilliant, adding Vatanen and Skjei at the deadline, quality fill-ins, especially now healthy Vatanen.  Gardiner and Fleury, while occasionally mistake-prone, can be a dynamic bottom pair.  With Hamilton and Pesce missing, the Bs should have the edge from the back end.  McAvoy and Krug have increasingly looked comfortable on offense through each game of the restart.  Chara, the league’s oldest player, still is working on getting his legs under him but is coming along, assist on Washington’s first goal aside.  Grzelcyk, Lauzon, and Clifton solidify strong depth from top to bottom for the Bs.



Lineup Card Taken from dailyfaceoff.com

As we will see in the next section, the Canes don’t quite see the results their numbers suggest.  The goaltending of Mrazek and Reimer is league average at best with 1A starter Mrazek being a streaky one and contributes to the issue.  However, both played extremely well in the play-in round.  Rask looks ready to go after two strong starts after missing action early on due to a mangled finger and cough.  If Rask plays his game and Mrazek and Reimer don’t continue standing on their heads, the Bs have the marked advantage between the pipes.

By the Numbers

Numbers final update

Stats and data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com

Carolina goes, goes, and goes some more.  They put up shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals.  That was equally true against the Rangers as it was in the regular season.  They have been Corsi darlings for several years with their high volume approach to offense.  With young talent blooming, they have finally started seeing positive results from this approach in the last couple of seasons.  The Bruins play a much more measured game and don’t trade chances like the ‘Canes do.  This will be a fascinating stylistic difference to watch for in seeing who can impose their style on the series.

The Bruins are the stronger of the two on special teams, though Carolina comes in the hotter of the two in this department.  One would expect the Bruins to snap out of their powerplay funk at some point though the team has not consistently produced chances they way they did in the regular season. Pastrnak, in particular, has not had his usual good looks at the net, and in turn, has tried to force passes through the seam instead of shooting.

Tactical Keys to the Series

Carolina is a team that relies on volume, as we saw in the numbers.  In order to do so, they constantly push the puck up ice.  This means quick outs from their own zone, pushing the puck ahead to the neutral zone, and little chips to space into the offensive zone for forwards to chase down.  It also means their defense getting engaged up the ice and putting lots of pucks to the net.  For an even more in-depth team and individual player explanation of this, I encourage you to check out the great work of Jack Han HERE, which is complemented by incomparable data from Cory Sznajder.  Both are must follow for the hockey nerd fan.  Below is an example of the Hurricanes mentality of getting the puck up to open space and get it back at all costs.


In doing some hot stove chatting at my most recent adult pick up game, Canes fan @BillKeryc hammered home these points.  In particular, he stressed the fact that all 5 on-ice Carolina players funnel the puck to the net at every opportunity.

So what are the keys for the Bruins?  For starters, they need to be aware the Hurricanes will constantly be trying to push them back on their heels. They need to respect that without giving Carolina’s offensive stars to much cushion to be creative.  Second, the Bs need to possess the puck.  The Bruins D will need to get back quickly on pucks to recover possession before the Hurricanes forwards force them into plays they don’t like.

That puts an emphasis on all 5 players on the ice supporting each other and creating simple outlets to advance the puck and maintain puck possession.  If the Bs can maintain possession and evade Carolina’s pressure, they will be able to neutralize Carolina’s desire to dictate play.  If they do get on their heels, which is bound to happen from time to time, the Bs will have to ensure they avoid crucial mistakes and defer to patient defending or simple outs when needed.  Expect Coach Cassidy to emphasize puck management even more than he already has in his round-robin pressers.

My Prediction:  Bruins in 7