Bruins Film Session: Hurricanes Forecheck, Physicality, and Cycle Ability is Tipping the Scales

( Photo Credit: Gregg Forwerck / NHLI via Getty Images )

By: Joe Travia | Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @NHLJoeTravia

The Boston Bruins have dug themselves quite a hole. In what was billed as the closest of the first-round matchups in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, through two games, it has been anything but. The Hurricanes have taken a 2-0 series lead, outscoring the Bruins by a total score of 10-3.

Now, to be fair, the Bruins have certainly had some moments in this series. One could reasonably argue that the Bruins looked like the superior team for long stretches of play through two games. So, how exactly have things gone so wrong, so fast? To me, it comes down to the fact that the Hurricanes have imposed their will, and the Bruins have not been able to punch back.

The Hurricanes aren’t a team that features loads of dynamic offensive talent that will beat you with an end-to-end rush a la Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche (he just scored on such a rush as I am typing this). They are well-coached and tenacious; they forecheck hard to get possession and then use a relentless cycle to generate chance after chance until they can capitalize. For example, take the opening goal in the series, scored by Seth Jarvis:

There isn’t even anything special about this goal. The Hurricanes are just all over the puck, winning race after race and battle after battle. By the time Jaccob Slavin takes a shot from the point, Taylor Hall is nowhere near him to force a difficult shot, and Hampus Lindholm is left to try and clear out two Hurricanes from the slot as Charlie McAvoy has not returned to the net front. Jarvis gets a stick on it, and Ullmark has little chance. 1-0 Hurricanes.

Less than two minutes later, the Hurricanes scored almost the exact same way. Here was Nino Niederreiter’s tally to make it 2-0:

The Hurricanes’ blueprint for creating offense is straightforward. They do the same exact thing here as they did on the Jarvis goal, using their speed and cycle to completely wear the Bruins defenders out before Niederreiter is able to break free and rip a shot through traffic. The most concerning thing for me about this clip is the lack of pushback from Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk out front.

You don’t even need to use the caveat of “this can’t happen in the playoffs.” This can’t happen at any time, at any level of hockey. You have to move guys out of the way and give your goalie a chance. Neither Carlo nor Grzelcyk is even really engaged with the Hurricanes forwards. Linus Ullmark might be tall, but you’d have to be Shaq to see over this traffic. He never even has a chance.

If you would like to see all these issues wrapped up into one, there is the following sequence that I pulled from game two:

Anyone who played hockey at a level with checking knows how terrible it is to have to retrieve a puck in the corner when you know full well you are going to be on the receiving end of a big hit. It absolutely sucks, but it’s part of the game, and you still have to do your job. If you have read any of my prior work, you know how much I emphasize the importance of puck retrievals. It’s such an essential aspect in today’s NHL to be able to get the puck in your own zone and be able to make a clean play that leads to transition.

The Hurricanes’ physicality is severely hampering the Bruins ability to do this. In this clip, Gryz anticipates a hit and makes a lousy outlet pass, then takes an *interesting* (to put it kindly) route to get back to the puck in the corner, ultimately losing the race to Jordan Staal. Brad Marchand then has a chance to get it out but seems to focus more on bracing for the incoming hit. This all leads to the Hurricanes gaining possession and attacking via the same cycle game that led to the Jarvis and Niederreiter goals. The Bruins aren’t victimized, but it’s a worrying trend.

Down 2-0 and heading home, this series is far from over. If the Bruins are going to win this series, they need to start imposing their will on the Hurricanes and not allow them to attack the way they want to attack. They’ve spent two games being the nail; it’s time to be the hammer.

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