With the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin later tonight, here is a look at four questions that could decide this best-of-seven series between the Bruins and Hurricanes, along with other predictions and preview content:
No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes
Game 1: Tuesday, Aug. 11 (8 p.m.)
Game 2: Thursday, Aug. 13 (8 p.m.)
Game 3: Saturday, Aug. 15 (12 p.m.)
Game 4: Monday, Aug. 17 (8 p.m.)
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, Aug. 19 (time TBD)
Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, Aug. 20 (time TBD)
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, Aug. 23 (time TBD)
Hurricanes Record: 38-25-5 (81 points — 4th in Metropolitan Division)
Carolina Team Stats:
Goals Per Game: 3.19 (11th in NHL)
Goals Against Per Game: 2.84 (11th in NHL)
Power-play Percentage: 22.3 (8th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 84.0 (4th in NHL)
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk — David Krejci — Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie — Charlie Coyle — Anders Bjork
Joakim Nordstrom — Sean Kuraly — Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara — Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug — Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk — Jeremy Lauzon
Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho — Teuvo Teravainen
Nino Niederreiter — Vincent Trocheck — Martin Necas
Warren Foegele — Jordan Staal — Justin Williams
Brock McGinn — Morgan Geekie — Jordan Martinook
Jaccob Slavin — Dougie Hamilton
Brady Skjei — Sami Vatanen
Jake Gardiner — Joel Edmundson
Bruins' record against Hurricanes this season: 1-0-0
The Bruins and Hurricanes only met once during the 2019-20 regular season, with their final two matchups (March 31st & April 4th) wiped off the board due to the NHL's COVID-19 pause. In that lone meeting back on Dec. 3, 2019, the B's extended their win streak to eight straight games with a 2-0 victory over the Canes at TD Garden. Jaroslav Halak stopped all 24 shots that came his way for the shutout, while Charlie Coyle and David Krejci each scored in the final five minutes of regulation to hand Boston two points against Carolina.
Of course, both Boston and Carolina met last postseason in the Eastern Conference Final — with the Bruins punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final by way of a four-game sweep.
Boston needed to orchestrate a third-period rally en route to a Game 1 victory against the Canes, but beyond that, the Bruins cruised to the finish line, only trailing for a little over 13 minutes of actual game action against Carolina. After Boston bested Carolina, 6-2, in Game 2 at TD Garden, Tuukka Rask snuffed out any hopes of a comeback for Carolina down at PNC Arena, stopping 35 saves in a 2-1 victory in Game 3 before posting a shutout in a clinching Game 4 win.
1. Can Carolina's aggressive penalty kill hamper Boston's power play?
Rask turning aside 58 of the 59 shots that came his way down in Raleigh might have been the final nail in the Canes' coffin last spring, but it was Boston's ruthless efficiency on the man advantage that put an upstart Carolina team on the ropes throughout that series.
Despite Rod Brind'Amour and his staff's best efforts at taking away time and space for a potent Bruins power play, Boston still sheared through the Hurricanes' shorthanded defensive structure like a fork through a slow-cooked pork shoulder — burying seven of its 15 power-play chances during the four-game sweep.
If Boston can continue to land punches against the opposition during 5v4 play, many concerns that have sprouted up in wake of the round-robin could dissipate in a hurry — especially when it comes to the lack of scoring punch from the B's so far up in Toronto.
"Last year our power play was really good against Carolina, helped us a lot," Bruce Cassidy said. "Particularly in game one in the third period, we got on the board a couple times, it helped us win games. That’s something that is going to be a big x-factor in this series. Can we replicate that success? So that’s something that is a bit of an unknown because in the round-robin we didn’t have a lot of success on it. We didn’t have a lot of opportunity to build it. Especially with certain guys out of the lineup in practice, so that’s one area that we’re going to have to be cleaner and sharper on to help us battle through the days we’re not getting five-on-five scoring."
Indeed, not much has changed when it comes to how Carolina goes about its business when down a skater.
While some clubs opt to pack things in and take away the slot/crease to cut down on Grade-A chances, the Hurricanes are much more active on their penalty kill — often stacking bodies at the blue line on opposing O-zone entries, while continuing to pressure high when defending in their own zone.
(This video from the Hurricanes' game against the Oilers on Dec. 10, 2019 showcases just how much of a pain the Hurricanes' PK can be — whether it be packing things in along the blue line on Edmonton's attempted entry or Jordan Martinook pressuring high and starting a shorthanded rush down the other end of the ice.)
That aggressiveness could cause issues for a team like the Bruins, who, despite having plenty of weapons at their disposal on the power play, are often at their best when players like Torey Krug and Brad Marchand are allowed to operate with the puck up high and given the freedom to move along the half wall in search of openings in the defense.
Boston will need to be able to get out of danger in a hurry if guys like Krug and Marchand are facing a skater or two up high. Even if the best option might be to simply feed the puck down low for a player like Jake DeBrusk to recover, Boston needs to move the puck quickly to avoid any situations in which Carolina can force a turnover and get rolling on a counter rush — given that the Canes have tallied 10 shorthanded goals during the regular season, good for second in the NHL.
(As seen above during a B's defeat in Carolina back in 2018, the Hurricanes are often relentless on the PK, hounding puck carriers into the defensive zone in search of a turnover and quick scoring feeds.)
While both Boston and Carolina's special-teams units haven't changed all that much from last year's meeting in the ECF, it will be curious to see the Canes' fourth-ranked penalty kill during the regular season (84.0% kill rate) makes any adjustments in this series against a power play that's still evidently shaking off some rust (0-for-9 during round-robin play).
2. Who gets the tough gig of containing the Teravainen-Aho-Svechnikov line?