The Carolina Hurricanes are going into Boston to try and earn themselves a trip to their third Stanley Cup Finals. Here are the three keys to winning this series.
In one sense, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in familiar territory with their fourth trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2002. Only Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay (five appearances apiece) have made it more often during that span. But considering this is the first postseason appearance for the franchise in a decade, it’s not exactly a familiar spot for the current squad.
To advance to the Stanley Cup for the third time in franchise history, the Hurricanes will have to overcome a more experienced, higher paid and deeper team. So what else is new?
Turn up the heat
When playing their best, the Hurricanes are a relentless fore-checking, havoc-wreaking offensive juggernaut that keeps the other team scrambling just to clear the puck. At various times during both series with the Capitals and Islanders, the Hurricanes had lengthy stretches where they dominated play.
Unfortunately, the Bruins have size, depth and experience on defense, more than either the Capitals or Islanders. If any team can neutralize Carolina’s fore-check, it should be the Bruins.
The Canes’ success rate will ultimately be determined by how well its speedy fore-checkers can keep Boston’s defenders bottled up and unable to spring Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with stretch passes through the neutral zone.
Avoiding the Sin Bin
For Carolina, it’s critical for both teams to stay out of the penalty box. Carolina’s 5-on-5 is much better than its 5-on-4, and the Bruins have a sizzling power play.
After showing some life early against Washington, Carolina’s anemic power play reverted to form in the second round against New York. In 11 postseason games, the Canes are converting 10.5 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage. They even squandered a lengthy 5-on-3 against the Islanders.
The attack has looked disorganized at times, and skaters have struggled getting the puck into the offensive zone. Rod Brind’Amour should petition the NHL to allow teams to decline penalties on the opposition because the Hurricanes’ 5-on-5 attack is rolling. Carolina averaged 2.4 5-on-5 goals per game in its opening two series, more than half a goal higher than any other team in the postseason.
Boston, on the other hand, has the strongest power play in the playoffs. The Bruins converted 28.6 percent in wins over Toronto and Columbus.
The Hurricane’s penalty kill, one of the top units in the league during the regular season, has also struggled in the playoffs, stopping 75 percent of power play opportunities.
A tightly called series with lots of penalties would seem to benefit Boston. Let’s hope the refs continue to swallow their whistles on a lot of calls.
Keep its edge
The Hurricanes have embraced the role of underdogs, so Boston’s win over Columbus, which denied home-ice advantage to Carolina, may be a blessing in disguise. Even with a three games to none lead over the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Hurricanes played like the more desperate team in its 5-2 series-sweeping win in Game 4.
New York forward Anders Lee summed up the Hurricanes’ style after a 1-0 loss in the first game of the series.
"“They just play all-out, they don’t give up. They played a good, hard hockey game.” — Anders Lee"
Carolina has been tested like no other team in the playoffs, losing defensemen Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk, forwards Micheal Ferland, Jordan Martinook, Andrei Svechnikov and Saku Maenalanen and starting goalie Petr Mrazek for extended periods. TVR is out for the the rest of the playoffs, but it looks like Ferland and Mrazek will return against Boston, with Maenalanen not far behind.
Carolina’s depth is one area where it stacks up well against the Bruins. Haydn Fleury has held his own while filling in for de Haan and now van Riemsdyk, with a +3 rating in limited ice time in five games.
Offensively, the Hurricanes receive contributions from all four lines and its defense, with 13 players who scored at least 10 goals in the regular season. If Ferland returns, the offense figures to get even stronger.
Boston gets most of its offense from its top two lines and had only seven players reach double digits in goals during the season. If the Canes’ top scorers can hold their own against the Bruins’ top two lines, Carolina’s depth could become the decisive factor.
Carolina’s first trip to the postseason in a decade has been filled with drama and thrilling play. PNC Arena has again become a house of horrors for the opposition (at 5-0, the Canes are the only team left in the playoffs that is unbeaten at home). And hockey curmudgeon Don Cherry has called the fans a bunch of front-running jerks. It’s never been a better time to be a Hurricanes fan.