Hurricanes ready for another difficult challenge
It’s not a matchup many, if any, predicted when the season started back in October. But thanks to a little luck and a lot of well-played hockey, the Bruins and Hurricanes will kick off the Eastern Conference Finals Thursday night in Boston.
As it was in their seven games with the Capitals, and throughout their sweep of the Islanders, the Hurricanes know the Bruins will present a difficult challenge.
Maybe their most difficult yet.
“They have a championship pedigree. Their core has won, their core is proven. They haven’t been to the conference finals in five, six years I think, something like that,” said Justin Williams “So, they’re hungry, they’re obviously motivated and I’m looking forward to the great challenge.”
With the Bruins, the Hurricanes get a red-hot Tuukka Rask who has allowed just four goals in his last three games.
With the Bruins, the Hurricanes get a top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak who together, have finally gotten back to the dangerous trio they were in the regular season.
After the three combined for just one point in the first three games of their second round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak combined for 11 points in the final three games of the series.
As dangerous as the Bruins’ top line is, head coach Rod Brind’Amour knows the Bruins have more to offer offensively.
"Well, they have more than one line. Obviously they have, do you want to call it the top line in the league? They definitely have that, to me they have other weapons too,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday.
In the two games where Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak appeared against the Hurricanes in the regular season, Carolina did a good job of slowing down the three, holding them to just one five-on-five goal during 12:36 of ice time.
With the first two games in Boston, Brind’Amour loses the ability to dictate the matchups as the Bruins get the last change. But that’s something that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for him.
“I think that gets overblown. Obviously it’s nice to know when you have that last change you can for sure get what you want,” added Brind’Amour. “But at the end of the day, teams playing at this time of year, they have good players. So everybody should be able to play against everybody.”
In both of those matchups where the Bruins “perfection line” was fully intact, Jaccob Slavin got the bulk of five-of-five time against the trio, skating 7:09 in one game, and 7:40 in the other.
“Yeah, it’s a tough challenge. They’re solid, skilled players. But as a d-core, we have to make sure we’re taking away their time and space,” said Slavin.
“I think that’s the biggest thing. When you give skilled players room and time to make those plays, they’re going to make them. But if you’re in their face and not letting them get over the blue line with possession, you’re making them play the grind game, too.”
As both teams prepare for Thursday’s Game 1, the situation in round three is a familiar one for the Bruins. After going seven games in their first round series with the Maple Leafs, the Bruins had just one day off between the end of one series, and start of the other. The Blue Jackets however, had nine days off between games.
The Bruins will enter Game 1 Thursday with two days off between games. Like the Blue Jackets, the Hurricanes are coming off of a sweep of their own, and will have five days off between games.
After an overtime loss in Game 1, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella admitted that in practices leading up to Game 1, it was very difficult to simulate the speed, intensity and physicality that the Stanley Cup Playoffs bring. Because of that, the Blue Jackets struggled in the first period of Game 1.
Brind’Amour hopes to avoid a similar fate on Thursday, but admits there is no blueprint for how to handle an extended break between playoff series.
“How do you guard against it? We’ll find out. We’re trying our best to kind of—this is the day, we planned it out. I don’t think anyone really has the blueprint for it because everyone tries different things,” said Brind’Amour. “I talked to some people about what to do with this long of a break and we’ll find out whenever we play.”
As the hours tick closer to Thursday’s puck drop, Brind’Amour and his staff will have some decisions to make. One of the bigger ones will be who gets the start in net for the Hurricanes.
Petr Mrazek started the first nine playoff games for the Hurricanes, and was a key for Carolina in their first round upset over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. But Mrazek left Game 2 of the ‘Canes second round series with the Islanders due to a lower-body injury.
With Mrazek injured, Curtis McElhinney came in relief and stopped all 17 shots he saw. McElhinney then went to save 54 of 58 shots he saw in Games 3 and 4.
The first thing Brind’Amour will do is figure out where his goalies are at health wise, and then go from there.
“We got to make sure both guys are one hundred percent healthy because that obviously trumps everything. But, seems like they’re both feeling good. So we will sit down tomorrow and hash it out,” added Brind’Amour. “It won’t be more than a ten second conversation to be honest with you. Whatever way we go, we will be happy with it.”
Brind’Amour knows a thing or two about playoff series with the Bruins, as he was involved in the last playoff series between the two teams back in 2009. A series that saw the Hurricanes knock off the top-seeded Bruins in seven games.
His role in that series however, was just a little different than it will be this time around. Brind’Amour was busy logging about 12 minutes a game on the Hurricanes blue line.
The series will always be remembered for Scott Walker and two eventful plays: his punch to the face of Aaron Ward in Game 5, and his overtime game-winning goal in Game 7.
“That was a big series for us and a big goal for him. He always never lets me forget it. Every time we are playing, when Brock McGinn scored (in double OT of Game 7 against Washington) he (Walker) chimed in and said mine was better. You know, that was a great series and it’s been a long time,” said Brind’Amour.
Unfortunately for Brind’Amour he didn’t have the best view of Walker’s game-winner.
“I was actually in the medical room when that goal went in, so it was a different perspective.”
But if there are any more Game 7 game-winning overtime goals in this series, Brind’Amour will have a front-row view of it. And if there are any game-winning Game 7 overtime goals in the series, Brind’Amour hopes to witness the same result.
“Obviously would like to have the same result.”