Bruins vs Hurricanes Series Preview
We have finally made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately, the Bruins now face the hottest team from the play-in round the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes completed their dismantling of the New York Rangers outscoring them 11-4. The Bruins on the opposite side went 0-3 in the round-robin. The good news for the Bruins is they have been on the upswing the last few games. You could see in their play and even their comments the round-robin games didn't mean as much. Now healthy and with games under their belt, it's time to flip the switch. Some fans might be tempted to look at last year's Bruins vs Hurricanes series as a preview of this year’s, but both teams are very different. I actually already did a Bruins vs Hurricanes series preview back in March which you can read here and a lot has changed even since then.
Carolina boasts an impressive forward group led by their top line of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen. Of the eleven goals, the Canes score against the Rangers that line scored 7 of them. Aho leads the team in scoring with eight points followed by Svechnikov with five. Unfortunately for the Canes no other forward has more than two points. Carolina also has some strong veteran leadership with Justin Williams, Jordan Stall, and Vincent Trocheck. Yes in case you forgot Carolina traded to add Trocheck at the deadline this year. While their depth is impressive outside of the top line no forward actually score even 40 points on the season. So far through their play-in round, it has been more of the same with the top line shouldering the load. If the Hurricanes can't get more scoring from their depth this could be a shorter series than expected.
Before we talk about who the Hurricanes have on defense we need to look at who they are missing. Dougie Hamilton was in the middle of a career season before going down to an injury. The pause was looked at as a second chance for him to come back after his season looked over. Unfortunately, Hamilton has yet to suit up for a game since suffering an undisclosed injury back in July during camp. His first practice with the team was just last Thursday. If he is unavailable for the series that is a huge blow. Another key member missing is Brett Pesce. Pesce went down to an injury late in the season and is out indefinitely. At the time of the injury, he was third on their defense in ice time.
Those holes were addressed at the deadline with the additions of Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. Two more big-time buys to go with the previously mentioned Trocheck deal. Both defenders have played well so far averaging over 19 minutes a game. Carolina's defense is also anchored by one of the most underrated defensemen in the league Jaccob Slavin. Joel Edmundson has also become a minutes eater in these playoffs. He joins Slavin as the only other defender averaging over twenty-one minutes a game. Their top six is rounded out with Haydn Fleury and Bruins fan favorite Jake Gardiner. If Hamilton can make his return during this series that unit becomes truly formidable. Without him, it is still loaded with talent but outside of Slavin not much in the way of true top tier guys. The Bruins still hold an edge with a rested Chara to go with McAvoy and Carlo.
Carolina used both of their goalies in their play-in series. Petr Mrazek playing the first two games while James Reimer clinched the series in game three. Mrazek only allowed 1.50 goals per game in his two outings sporting a .940 save percentage. Reimer then even outperformed that allowing only one goal while stopping 37 of 38 shots in a win or go home game for the Rangers. During the regular season, however, this duo was far from the dominant force we have seen the last three games.
Mrazek played in 40 games with a 21-16-2 record to go with a decent goal against of 2.69 but a below-average save percentage of .905. You could argue Reimer actually should have been that starter over Mrazek. With his 14-6-2 record to go with 2.66 goals against and a .914 save percentage in 25 games, he had the better stats. The Hurricanes were actually rumored to be in the market for a goalie upgrade at the deadline. With the injuries on defense piling up it forced them to use their available assets there instead. Could the choice to stick with Mrazek and Reimer come back to bite them facing one of the best goalies in the league in Tuukka Rask? Only time will tell.
Carolina has so far been a top-heavy offensive team. If the Bruins are able to slow down that top line this team becomes very beatable. In terms of depth, the Bruins hold the advantage in lines two through four. Bergeron and Marchand could be tasked with giving up some offense to shut down Carolina’s top weapons. As a result, the Bruins other lines will have to pick up the slack. Krejci now has two healthy 20 goal wingers for the first time in forever. On top of that, the third line has been buzzing around the offensive zone every game but just can't find the net. Just a pinch of puck luck and the third line will be a nightmare for teams to face with their combination of size speed and skill.
As for the defense Carolina has a very talented group but outside of Slavin, they don't have the same top talent as the Bruins. While the Bruins have made some egregious coverage errors it has been steadily improving. Now that the playoffs are actually here a lot more attention will be paid to the details and you can bet Cassidy has had the guys in the film room nonstop. With a rested Chara, McAvoy, Carlo, and the offensive dynamo Krug, the Bruins defense should be a key difference-maker in the series.
When it comes to the goalies it's not particularly close. Mrazek while capable of incredible play, for his career, has been average. Reimer hasn't been in a high-pressure situation like this since 2013. Rask is one of the top goalies in the league and is almost unbeatable when on top of his game. I see the Bruins winning this series in six games. I wouldn't be surprised if they drop game one since they haven't put a full 100% effort game together yet. However, that loss will serve as a wake-up call that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are here. As always stay safe out there and LET’S GO BRUINS!
Featured image courtesy of Charles Krupa/AP Photo.