Well, this was expected. Wasn’t it? Sarcasm aside, Boston and Carolina have made it to the Eastern Conference Final by surviving a Game 7 in round number one. After that, the roads diverged a little. Carolina was able to sweep the New York Islanders. Meanwhile, Boston struggled a bit to dispatch a pesky Columbus team in six games.
Normally, there is a part where the regular season meetings are discussed. Honestly, one can throw those records out the window. This series will be more about how the two teams are playing now. Let’s look at the two conference finalists.
Boston Bruins – Atlantic Division 2nd seed
Boston has not had it easy in these playoffs and some of that is their own doing. Already, they will be missing Charlie McAvoy as he was suspended for Game 1 due to a hit to the head of Josh Anderson. So, the Bruins will be without one of their best offensive defensemen. Fortunately, Boston does have home ice advantage. That could prove to be important later in this series.
One of the main reasons why Boston is in this position is Tuukka Rask. Rask has played 13 games and has not had a sub .900 save percentage once. Also, he shut the door in Round One against Toronto stopping 54 of the final 57 shots in that series. Then, Rask made 111 saves on 115 shots to end the season of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Overall, Rask had a save percentage over .950 against Columbus. He faced over 30 shots in every single game except Game 1. There may be more of the same at times against the Carolina Hurricanes.
As for injuries, Kevan Miller, John Moore, and Noel Acciari are hurt. However, it appears John Moore will be available for Game 1 and Miller may be back at some point in the round. Acciari is likely questionable for Game 1. The biggest question mark of the second round was the health of David Pastrnak. Pastrnak struck back with vengeance at one point, tallying five points (four goals) in a four-game span of the Columbus series.
What to watch
There are several things. Carolina’s penalty kill has been a bit vulnerable this postseason. Overall, they are at just 75% and Boston’s power play is one of the league’s best. In the playoffs, Boston has the best power play going 10 for 35 through two rounds. How Boston plays at home early will be vital against a very rested Carolina team. Boston is going to give up chances against Carolina and Tuukka Rask will have to play very well once again.
Will David Pastrnak float up and down the lines again or will he play more with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand? It will be a storyline to keep an eye on. It appears the Bergeron line will go toe to toe against the Sebastian Aho line from the start. Whichever top line wins the battle may mean the series.
Carolina Hurricanes – Metropolitan Division 4th seed (Wildcard)
The “bunch of jerks” took care of the Washington Capitals in dramatic fashion then grinded out a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders. What was lost in that series and in these playoffs is how well the Sebastian Aho line has played at home. Aho had seven points in five games. It was the two home games against the Islanders that stuck out most. The center fired two goals and two assists along with five scoring chances and six shots on net. For the 21-year old, it has been a coming of age type of postseason. The secondary scoring of Jordan Staal has been unexpected. Staal scored five times and has nine points in 11 contests. Combine that with the efforts of Teuvo Teravainen (six goals, nine points) and Justin Faulk (three points last two games), and the Hurricanes have some scoring punch at even strength especially.
Petr Mrazek should return in net for Carolina to open this series after injuring his groin early on against the Islanders. If for some reason, he cannot play, Curtis McElhinney saved 71 of 75 shots while winning all three decisions (two starts).
As for injuries, Carolina may be without Micheal Ferland still. Also, Trevor van Riemsdyk will miss the rest of the playoffs. Mrazek is the only slight question mark if there is one. The Hurricanes and Bruins are not experiencing significant injuries to key players.
What to watch
Carolina must get improved play from its special teams. There has been little special from them. The power play is barely above 10% and the penalty kill has yielded nine goals on 36 times short-handed. That will have to be better against Boston. Also, they will need more contributions from the Aho line on the road to start.
The Hurricanes will be rusty after a long rest and how fast they establish their forecheck and attack may go a long way in determining the length and fate of this series. Can the young Aho line succeed against the Bergeron line? Will the Staal line and the depth be enough against Boston? Those questions could be answered early.
Finally, what is in the futures?
Currently, Carolina is at a respectable +130 while the Boston Bruins are the favorites at -170. It is easy to see why as their goaltending has been the most consistent of these playoffs – again via Tuukka Rask. Overall, Boston has just a little too much for Carolina to handle.
Prediction: Boston in seven.
By Chris Wassel