During the shortened regular season, the Boston Bruins were the best team in the NHL and won the Presidents’ Trophy as the only team to get 100 points. Things have not gone as planned for them in the return to play at the Toronto bubble, though.
After losing all three Eastern Conference round-robin games, the Bruins went from the top-seed to the fourth-seed. Boston will have to quickly fix what went wrong as they will open the playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes, who had the most impressive Qualifying Round series win in sweeping the New York Rangers. It’s also a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, won by Boston in four games.
Regular Season Matchup
The Bruins and Hurricanes played only once during the regular season in December at the TD Garden. Boston used two third-period goals in the final five minutes to win 2-0 behind a 24-save shutout from backup goalie Jaroslav Halak. James Reimer made 32 saves for Carolina.
Charlie Coyle and David Krejci scored the Bruins goals. Boston was in the middle of one of their better streaks during the season and collected points for a 12th straight game.
Impressive Performance by Carolina
Carolina made a loud statement in the Qualifying Round series by sweeping the Rangers. They allowed just four goals in three games. The Hurricanes’ first line of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen was terrific during the regular season and they have carried their play over the postseason.
They combined for 7 of the 11 goals Carolina scored in the series. Svenchnikov recorded a hat trick in Game 2 and Aho also scored three goals. During the regular season, Aho had a team-high 38 goals, Svechnikov had 24 and Teravaninen, along with a team-high 48 assists, added 15. Controlling this line will be key for Boston. Last season, they limited Aho to one goal and two assists in their playoff meeting.
Going into their series with the Rangers, Carolina was dealing with injuries on their defense. Former Bruin Dougie Hamilton was deemed to be unfit to participate against the Rangers, but is expected back at some point in this series. Brett Pesce is still recovering from surgery in March. The Hurricanes traded for Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline and he has been slotted next to Jaccob Slavin on the top pairing.
In net, Petr Mrazek won the first two games with a combined 47 saves against the Rangers. Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour turned to Reimer in Game 3 and he turned back 37 shots, allowing just one goal to close out the series. During the season, Mzarek played in 40 games and went 21-16-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average (GAA) with a .905 save percentage (SV%). In 25 games, Reimer went 14-6-2 with a 2.66 GAA and a .914 SV%.
Don’t be surprised if Brind’Amour decides to play each goalie in the series as he did in the Qualifying Round. Mrazek missed last year’s series against the Bruins after suffering a lower-body injury in the previous round against the New York Islanders.
Another Postseason Battle
The Hurricanes were formerly the Hartford Whalers and spent 25 years in Connecticut with plenty of battles with the Bruins as Adams Division foes. The Bruins beat the Whalers twice in the Adams Division semifinals in back-to-back seasons (1989-90 and 1990-91) before they moved south to North Carolina.
This will be the fourth playoff series between the current organizations, with the Bruins holding a 2-1 edge. Boston prevailed in six games in a 1999 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series and last year, the Bruins swept Carolina in the Conference Final. The Hurricanes’ lone series win was in the 2009 Conference Semifinals in seven games.
It’s safe to say that the Hurricanes have been looking forward to a rematch since last spring. The Bruins outscored the Hurricanes 17-5 in dominating the series, but this year they are a different team. They have one of the most aggressive defensive units in the league who are not afraid to join the rush and they swarm on their forecheck with blue-collar forwards.
After struggling through the round-robin, the Bruins now begin their quest to erase the memory of losing last year’s Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues. It will be a tall task against the Hurricanes who come in with a ton of confidence.
Carolina was the most impressive team in the Qualifying Round. This is a series where the Bruins will need production from at least their top-six forwards if they hope to advance. They’ll need their second line more than they have ever had this year beginning in this series. If Carolina can keep frustrating the Bruins the way they frustrated the Rangers in the three round-robin games, it could be a short series for Boston.