For the third time in the last four Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Boston Bruins will match up with the Carolina Hurricanes. In 2019, the Bruins swept the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, then won a First Round series in five games in the Toronto playoff bubble in 2020. Now after a year of not playing in the 2021 postseason, the two will meet again in another First Round series.
If the 2021-22 regular-season series is any indication, then this could be a quick series. Carolina won all three games by a combined score of 17-1. However, those three games were played in the first four months of the season and a lot has changed since they last met. The Bruins should be considered underdogs against the Metropolitan Division winners, but it’s the playoffs and anything is possible. If the Black and Gold are going to win the series, here are three keys that are vital to their success.
Bruins Power Play Produces
The Bruins’ power play in the month of April struggled and struggled mightily. They endured an 0-for-39 drought that was ended with a David Pastrnak goal in a 5-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on April 28. Before that, the power play was tough to watch. They struggled with zone entries, setting up in the offensive zone, getting shots on the net, winning faceoffs in the offensive zone, and more importantly, scoring. Pastrnak missed eight games during the struggles with an injury, but with the talent that coach Bruce Cassidy is able to send out on a nightly basis, there was no excuse for it to struggle as long as it did.
Having Pastrnak back on the power play opens things up for the other members of the first unit. Teams have to pay more attention to his one-time slap shot, which opens things up for Patrice Bergeron in the bumper position, Brad Marchand along the wall to have more space to make plays, Taylor Hall around the net, and Charlie McAvoy at the point. Just over two minutes after Pastrnak broke the drought against Buffalo, Hall scored on another power play. The Bruins will need more of that against Carolina.
A lot of times in the playoffs, special teams can be the difference and in what is expected to be a close tight series, these units could be the difference between winning and losing. The Bruins rely on the success of their power play and finding it against the Hurricanes can go a long way toward having a lot of success in the series.
Marchand Finds Goal-Scoring Touch Again
Just as much as the Bruins’ power play struggled, so did Marchand. He scored one goal in his final 13 regular-season games and that was an empty-net goal in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers on April 26. Marchand and his teammates are hoping that Marchand seeing the puck go into even an empty net can get him going like a basketball shooter seeing one shot go through the basket and he gets confidence.
During his goal-scoring drought, Marchand still picked up eight assists and he did end up with 32 goals this season and 48 assists. He has had opportunities during his recent stretch, but he has had a lot of bad puck luck with shots hitting defensemen or goalies making timely saves. His linemates Jake DeBrusk and Bergeron have picked up the slack for the veteran left wing, but Marchand producing during this series is an almost must and needed for the Bruins to advance.
Bruins Third Line Is a Difference Maker
When Cassidy settled with a third-line of Trent Frederic, Charlie Coyle, and Craig Smith, the trio formed a quick connection and provided the Bruins with depth behind their top-six. In fact, there were games where the case could be made that they were the Black and Gold’s best line some nights.
Coyle finished his third regular season in Boston with 16 goals and 28 assists, which is the most helpers he has had with the Bruins since being acquired in a trade at the trade deadline in 2019 with the Minnesota Wild. He has been solid at the faceoff dot, winning 49.1-percent (%) of his draws and he has even found himself on the ice in late-game situations with the Bruins having a defensive zone faceoff protecting the lead and being insurance in case Bergeron is kicked out of the draw.
Smith scored 16 goals this season with 20 assists and he really became a different player when he was dropped down to the third line. He struggled in the top-six, mainly on the top line with Bergeron and Marchand, but he settled in nicely with Frederic and Coyle. He has always been and will always be a streaky scorer, but he has never been one to pass down a shooting opportunity and his chances have been more high-danger since the line change.
Frederic, who was more of a fourth-liner in his first season of 2020-21, seems to have found his offensive game more this season. He had eight goals and 10 assists, but his offensive game became more of forechecking, forcing turnovers, getting to the front of the net, and being aggressive on the rush. He opened the scoring in the regular-season final against the Toronto Maple Leafs just a minute into the game Friday night when he did what he’s been doing a lot of this year, getting to the net and jamming home a rebound, something they need him to continue to do against a Hurricanes’ team that Boston scored only one goal against in three games this season.
The Bruins’ top-two lines will be the focus of Carolina in terms of attention to detail and shutting down. This season, the third line has taken over games and helped the Black and Gold secure a victory with their play and production. If that happens again in this series or they supply offensive production behind the top-six, Boston becomes a deeper and tougher team to play against.
Heading into the series, Carolina is the favorite to win the best-of-seven series and advance, but the Bruins will be a tougher team to play against than they were in the three regular-season games. If Boston is going to advance past the Hurricanes, they will need to have production from up and down their lineup to support their inexperienced goaltending.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.