A familiar adversary awaits you.
For the third time in the last four playoffs, the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes are heading into a playoff series, starting Monday night in Raleigh.
The Bruins have won the previous two playoff games, sweeping the Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals and winning a five-game streak in the 2020 First Round Series. This upcoming game is not expected to end as quickly with a more experienced Carolina team eager to get over their playoff hump.
“We’re going to have to do our best to beat them,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told reporters.
Unlike their three regular season matchups, the Bruins will need their “A” game throughout their first-round game. The Hurricanes outscored Boston by a telling 16-2 margin, their last game being on Feb. 10.
Bruce Cassidy’s club received a short break with Frederik Andersen out for Game 1. The dynamic Canes goaltender and former Maple Leafs player started one of the best seasons of his nine-year career, with career highs in save percentage (.922) and in goals-against average (2.17).
The Bruins will have their hands full against a well-rounded group of Hurricanes, no matter who is in net for Carolina. With that in mind, here are three keys to a Bruins victory over the Hurricanes.
Set up a disciplined forecheck against an active Hurricanes D
The Hurricanes have four strong defensive lines and three strong defensive lines. And they all like to go on the offensive attack.
The arrival of Hampus Lindholm from Anaheim provided a needed two-way dynamic next to Charlie McAvoy on top pair. A solid year from Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo on the second pairing and recent improvements from the bottom duo of Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton give the Bruins a better defensive prospect heading into the first round.
But the Bruins need to stay disciplined against the speed and skill of Carolina defensemen. The Hurricanes love to use their transitioning defensemen and their cycle play, especially Tony DeAngelo and Jaccob Slavin. A healthy forecheck, coupled with timely physical play, will only benefit the Bs in a likely tightly contested series.
“Our third striker needs to be disciplined and recognize when to live and fight another day or live to stay in the fight. And I think our first failure before… you’re not always going to make it in time. They have big bodies; you’re not going to chase them out of the room,” Cassidy said.
“So while we can make it harder for them to get up and join, their numbers don’t reflect that they’re a great front team without the D being part of it. So we hope to minimize that. They do the forecheck very well, O-Zone cycles their D’s are involved. So if we can minimize their D’s involvement, we can neutralize that part of the game.”
A good counter-attack against a seasoned, but unproven substitute goalkeeper could go a long way. This brings us to our next key.
Take advantage of Carolina’s goaltending situation to start the series
The goalie pendulum could have swung to the Bruins to at least start the series.
Andersen continues to skate on his own according to Sara Civian of The Athletic, but hasn’t practiced since suffering a lower-body injury at the end of the regular season.
The Hurricanes will likely look to backup Antti Raanta against rookie Pytor Kochetkov for Monday’s series opener. But the Bruins prepared for either option to hold the net for Carolina in Game 1.
“Andersen was really good against us,” Cassidy said. “We can’t control who plays against us, but that’s a factor. ‘Goalkeeper Bob’ [goalie coach Bob Essensa] will review the goalkeepers he thinks he will play and give a short presentation on him. We’re expecting Raanta, but we’re not really sure, so we’ll have a little book on each guy.
Raanta, 32, had a rebound season in his freshman year at Raleigh. Raanta and Andersen formed a dynamic duo en route to winning the Jennings Trophy.
Raanta has five games of playoff experience in a cleanup role. Like Ullmark, however, he has yet to start his playoff career.
Ullmark found his stride in the second half of the season, beating Jeremy Swayman to win Game 1. Cassidy and the coaching staff won’t hesitate to pummel Swayman if Ullmark struggles. But the Bruins should feel pretty good about their goalie in the first post-Tuukka Rask playoff series.
Find a mismatch against the third line of ‘Canes
The Bruins received solid offensive production from their third line from Trent Frederic, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smtih in the second half of their regular season. But Cassidy and the coaching staff tend to use the line against the opponent’s third or fourth lines in a 5-on-5 game.
Rod Brind’Amour has an opposite approach with his third line consisting of Nino Neiderietter, Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast. Carolina’s fourth-year bench boss isn’t shy about fielding them against any first or second line.
In their first meeting in October, the Neiderietter-Staal-Fast trio went up against Boston’s once mighty front line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak 10-9 in shot attempts and a 7- 6 in net shots during 5v5 time.
Marchand (suspension) and Bergeron (injury) missed the last Bruins-Canes meeting of the regular season. At that point, the Bruins broke their front line, moving Pastrnak to the second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. Without their powerful duo, the Canes’ third line thwarted the Hall-Haula-Pastrnak trio in their 7-1 victory on February 10.
The ‘Canes have one of the best units in the last six in the league. They’ve established lags against the top lines, but the Bruins need to find a lag against that formidable third line. Perhaps Boston’s top line of Marchand, Bergeron and a resurgent Jake DeBrusk will provide that game problem in the first two games, with Carolina owning the final home change.
As WEEI’s Scott McLaughlin mentioned, the Bergeron line has seen success against Sebastian Aho and the Carolina front line in the past two playoffs. Given this trend, Brind’Amour could choose to keep his third line against the Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk line.
Cassidy’s staff will get the latest line change in Game 3 to face Bergeron against Carolina’s top line of Aho, Andrei Svechnkov and Seth Jarvis. That trickle down effect could benefit the rest of the roster, perhaps setting up the Frederic-Coyle-Smtih trio or the fourth line of Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar to take on Neiderietter, Staal and Fast.
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