Here are four things that could rock the Bruins-Hurricanes first-round game
The checkered flag goes to Trocheck on this one: the Bruins blew the gates, 7-1 and 6-0, in the next two games.
Erik Haula, who had a brief and seemingly acrimonious stint in Carolina, was booed vehemently upon his return with Nashville in the 2021 playoffs. The temperature rose every time he was on the ice, as was the case when Boston lost 3-0 at Raleigh in October.
The Bruins think they can handle the Canes, whom they whipped in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals (4-0), and quickly dispatched in the first round in 2020 (4-1).
The Canes think they can handle the Bruins, who have 99 shots in three games and produced one goal.
We’re comfortable saying it won’t be a 16-1 streak on the scoreboard. Here are four areas that could rock this first-round series:
The Hurricanes, under the guidance of their passionate fitness coach, Rod Brind’Amour, will skate, skate, skate. They pinch of the point. They press escape. They throw the puck, arrive first and net it. It’s a caffeinated style that forces you to snowball.
The Bruins are structured and patient, which helps them lock down their defensive zone. It also means that they are sometimes guilty of taking too long to make decisions. If they can use Carolina’s leap to their advantage – get them to over-commit – they’ll find the ice open.
The Bruins’ first forecheck has to be physical, coach Bruce Cassidy noted, has to get some part of the defenseman he’s up against. Carolina, according to Boston research, isn’t as effective on the break when its defenders don’t join the run.
It’s also essential that the third (top) attacker – often a center, like newcomers Haula and Tomas Nosek – knows when to join the forecheck and when to step back to prevent a counterattack.
The Bruins scored seven power-play goals in four games in 2019. Cassidy pointed to successful entries, fighting pressure and holding the blue line. They scored a few points in the race. It was a solid performance.
It came after the Game 2 adjustment that saw the Bruins solve Carolina’s aggressive D by throwing pucks behind them. The Canes will pounce in an attempt to kill the play, so the Bruins’ patience has served them well.
“They want to deny entries, get to pucks quickly, close passing lanes,” Cassidy said. His team, he felt, must have a “5-on-5 mentality” – spinning checks, taking hits to make plays. “If we have that mentality, we’ll get a few looks,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re going to work a lot on our starters.”
The Bruins’ power-play struggles are well-documented (0 for 39 over the past few weeks). They’re also particularly likely to allow shorthanded goals: seven goals to 5 to 4, tied for 10th in the league. While not as bad as 2019 (they allowed 14), they finished in the top 10 in that category five straight years under Cassidy.
They haven’t given the Canes a shortie in three games this year. Their only goal was a PPG. That left them 1-for-14 against Carolina, which allowed the second-fewest goals at 5-for-4 in the league.
It’s worth noting that the Bruins raised a banner in 2011 with a dormant power play. They arrived in the final in 2019 bleeding shorthanded chances.
Prior to this season, 22-year-old Piotr Kochetkov had never made more than 31 appearances in a season. He’s 41, including three in NHL uniforms (3-0-0, .902 save percentage). If he’s in net, the Bruins will look upstairs, where many rookies are vulnerable.
If the Hurricanes roll with Antti Raanta, he will try to prove himself as a playoff goaltender. The often-injured Finn has an .846 save percentage in five playoff appearances, three with the Rangers in 2016 and two with the Coyotes in 2020.
If Frederik Andersen (left leg) is healthy enough to leave, the ex-Maple Leaf will give himself some rebounds. It’s up to the Bruins to fight for them. Andersen’s teammates have done a great job of eliminating them this season, helping his Vezina Trophy bid (35-14-3, 2.17 GAA, .922 save percentage).
Meanwhile, areas of Linus Ullmark’s game that were problematic early on — puck play, rebound control — settled in as he adjusted to the Bruins defense.
His new team defends in layers, so players switch and offload, rather than following their man. He has an uptrend, which is why he won the nod over Jeremy Swayman to start the first round.
No more heavy offense
The eye-opening decision to remove David Pastrnak from the No. 1 line and promote Jake DeBrusk worked as well as Cassidy could have hoped.
After a slow start that got him scratched and asked for a trade, DeBrusk found himself with 25 goals. He got there with a PPG in Game 82, after colliding with Justin Holl and crashing hard on the boards in Toronto.
Pastrnak had 40 strikes despite a three-week core injury at the end of the year. He settled with Haula and Taylor Hall, giving Boston two legit score lines.
If either line is snuffed out, Cassidy could return to the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak unit that has lit up the league for the past few years. These three have a few face-off plays they can run, which could help in a critical situation.
Any Bruins line needs to find ways to get in front of the net where Carolina doesn’t have overwhelming size or defensive toughness. Prepare to hear the term “indoor ice” often in the coming days.