Many expected the Boston Bruins to make it to this point, especially after the Tampa Bay Lightning were upset in the first-round, but Carolina Hurricanes are a bit more of a surprise. They continuously fell short in previous years despite dominating the puck but they have put it all together under new head coach Rod Brind’Amour. After sweeping the New York Islanders, the Hurricanes haven’t played since last Friday (May 3rd) so they come in well rested, while Boston has went to seven and six games in their first two rounds. The Bruins won the regular season series but every game was extremely close:
- Oct. 30th: BOS 3️⃣ ➖ 2️⃣ CAR
- Dec 23rd: BOS 3️⃣ ➖ 5️⃣ CAR
- Mar 5th: BOS 4️⃣ ➖ 3️⃣ CAR OT
The Hurricanes were second in the NHL with a 54.8 CF% in the regular season and lead with a 56.5 CF% in the playoffs and will hold a 5v5 advantage over any opponent. Andrei Svechnikov missed a lot of the first round and half of the second round but has been great in the five playoff games that he’s appeared in—scoring three goals with one assist while posting an impressive 58.88 CF% and has not been on the ice for a 5v5 goal-against yet. His play has forced Brind’Amour to move him up to the top-line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and that trio will go head-to-head with the Patrice Bergeron line for much of the series. Boston’s top-line is rarely overmatched at 5v5 but they could have a difficult time containing Carolina’s top-line.
A second-line of Nino Niederreiter–Jordan Staal–Justin Williams have ridiculously good underlying numbers and should go head-to-head with Boston 1 when the games are in Carolina but should absolutely neutralize and carry the play to the David Krejci line when they’re in Boston. With two dominant possession lines at the top of their lineup, the Hurricanes should control much of the 5v5 play and they’re going to need to.
Boston’s third line has been good throughout the playoffs and will be relied on to take advantage of Carolina’s bottom-6 which has been much more susceptible to giving up goals at even-strength.
While Carolina should have a distinct advantage at 5v5, the Bruins should dominate the special teams portion of the series. The Bruins power-play was third-best in the regular season and leads all teams with a 28.6 percent conversion rate in the postseason. Carolina’s penalty kill is solid but the Bruins had no problem converting against the Blue Jackets’ top-ranked penalty-kill in round-two.
The Hurricanes were 20th on the power-play during the regular season and a 10.5 PP% in the postseason is a sluggish rate for a team in the Eastern Conference Finals. If Carolina can find power-play success, they really could dominate this series. However, it doesn’t look like that will be the case and their 5v5 advantage could quickly be diminished if they can’t slow down a Bruins top power-play unit that features Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk and Torey Krug, who have combined for seven power-play goals in the playoffs.
For some reason, many Bruins fans in Boston hate Tuukka Rask but he may be playing the best hockey of his career right now. Rask absolutely stood on his head in Game 6 vs. the Blue Jackets and never let a ruckus Columbus crown get into the game. Rask leads all netminders with a .938 SV% in the playoffs and has improved his .925 5v5 SV% from the regular season to .945 through 13 games. In his only start against the Hurricanes, Rask allowed five goals on 37 shots (.865 SV%) in a 5-3 loss.
It remains to be seen who will start for the Hurricanes, at least in Game 1. Petr Mrazek was hurt in Game 2 vs. the Islanders but declared himself ready to start Game 1 after he finished Monday’s practice. Mrazek stopped 40 of 41 shots (.976 SV%) before getting hurt vs. New York and has a .913 SV% overall through nine playoff outings. With Mrazek out, the Hurricanes turned to Curtis McElhinney and the 35-year-old was brilliant. McElhinney went 3-0-0 with a 1.56 GAA and .947 SV% after entering the series midway through Game 2 and leads all playoff netminders with a .956 5v5 SV%.
As good as Mrazek and McElhinney have been, the Bruins still have the edge in goal. Rask has a lot more playoff experience and has been every bit as good as the Hurricanes goaltending tandem.
Prediction: Bruins in 6️⃣
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