There are several subplots heading into the Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins.
For the second straight round, Cam Ward will be facing off against a stellar counterpart. Ward match Devils goalie Martin Brodeur save for save in the Round 1 thriller, not only emerging as the series winner but also the better goalie over seven games. He will now face Vezina finalist Tim Thomas.
There's also the dynamics of the old Bruins-Whalers rivalry. Hartford, situated not far from the Massachusetts border, was a natural rival for Boston in the days before the Whale's relocation to Raleigh. B's fans who once despised the Whalers now defend Hartford because of the franchise's departure to North Carolina.
But perhaps the most interesting dynamic in this - and any series, really - is ex-teammates facing off against each other.
Of course there's Mark Recchi and Aaron Ward. Both won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with Carolina, making bonds with several current Hurricanes. Ward even still calls the Triangle home.
Then there's Sergei Samsonov, who won the Calder Trophy as a Bruin following the 1997-98 season and still ranks 22nd in career goals (164) and 26th in career points (376) for the storied black and gold. His 30 game-winning goals are tied for ninth in Boston history. He played in Beantown until 2005-06, when he was dealt at the trade deadline to Edmonton, the Hurricanes' eventual foe in the Cup finals.
Many fans will even remember that during the lockout Chuck Kobasew, then property of the Calgary Flames, was linemates with Eric Staal in Lowell. The duo combined for 64 goals and 152 points for the Lock Monsters, who served as the AHL affiliate for both the Canes and Flames. Chad LaRose, Ryan Bayda and Cam Ward also played on that team. Lowell's coach? Hurricanes assistant Tom Rowe.
But the links between the players on both teams go well beyond that. Let's take a closer look at the Bruins and get a glimpse at how often paths cross en route to the NHL.
P.J. Axelsson: Axelsson is the longest-tenured Bruin, playing his entire NHL career in Boston beginning with the 1997-98 season. Also starting his career that year? Samsonov, who won the Calder Trophy that year as the league's top rookie.
Byron Bitz: Bitz spent just one season in the AHL before making the leap to Boston. Before the AHL, he suited for the Cornell Big Red from 2003-07. Bitz was teammates with Justin Krueger, a Carolina prospect still at Cornell, for his final college season in 2006-07.
Zdeno Chara: Big Z has played for three NHL teams and was teammates with Patrick Eaves in Ottawa in 2005-06. Eaves scored 20 goals that season as a rookie for the Sens, while Chara would depart for Boston as an unrestricted free agent.
Manny Fernandez: The 34-year-old goalie spent most of his career with Dallas and Minnesota before landing in Boston. But during the lockout, he and Carolina defenseman Niclas Wallin were teammates with Lulea in the Swedish Elite League.
Doug Houda: The B's assistant coach played defense in Hartford from 1990 to 1993, playing the 1990-91 season with Canes associate coach Ron Francis until the latter was traded to Pittsburgh that season.
Shane Hnidy: The 33-year-old defenseman has bounced around to a lot of teams, but has only crossed paths with one Hurricane. In 2003-04, Hnidy played nine games for the Nashville Predators. The Preds leading scorer was Scott Walker.
Matt Hunwick: This season is Hunwick's first full one in the NHL, but he's played with a couple Hurricanes in the past. He and Eaves were teammates on the U.S. U-18 championship team in 2002-03, and he was on the 2004-05 U.S. U-20 entry with Canes prospects Casey Borer and Nate Hagemo. But Hunwick probably knows Dwight Helminen best: they were teammates at the University of Michigan in 2003-04.
Phil Kessel: Borer and Hagemo were Kessel's teammates on the same '05 U-20 championship team as Hunwick, plus Hagemo and Kessel were teammates at the University of Minnesota in 2005-06. But Kessel also played with Hurricanes Kyle Lawson on the U.S. U-18 developmental team in 2004-05 and with both Lawson and Jamie McBain at that season's U-18 championships.
Chuck Kobasew: As mentioned above, Kobasew was teammates with Staal, Ward, LaRose and Bayda during the 2004-05 lockout season with the Lowell Lock Monsters, then a shared AHL affiliate of the Hurricanes and Flames.
Mark Recchi: Recchi has a long career checkered with several stops, including the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team in Carolina. He played with Canes goalie coach Tom Barrasso from 1988-89 season until his trade to Philadelphia in 1992. There he was teammates with Canes captain Rod Brind'Amour until the 1994-95 season, when he was dealt to Montreal. He rejoined Brind'Amour in Philly via trade during the 1998-99 season and the two again played together until Brind'Amour was shipped to Carolina in 2000. Recchi re-signed in Pittsburgh only to be dealt to Carolina for the Cup run in 2006, then returned to the Steel City before heading to Atlanta a quarter of the way through 2007-08. He played with Carolina winger Jussi Jokinen earlier this season in Tampa Bay before both were shipped out of town to their current teams.
Marc Savard: Savard, like Recchi, has made several stops in his hockey career, but only in 2003-04 did he cross paths with a current Hurricane, playing with Frank Kaberle in Atlanta for one season.
Mark Stuart: Patrick Eaves and Stuart were teammates on the U.S. U-18 National Developmental team in 2001-02, as was Canes prospect Noah Babin. Stuart and Eaves were also teammates on the 2001-02 U.S. U-18 championships team and 2002-03 U.S. U-20 championships team. He and Tim Gleason were defensemen on the 2003-04 U.S. U-20 championships team as well.
Tim Thomas: The late-blooming goaltender spent several years in the minors and overseas, including the 2001-02 season with Karpat of the Finnish league, where Canes defenseman Joni Pitkanen was his teammate. Thomas was also teammates with then-Bruin Samsonov in 2002-03.
Shawn Thornton: The journeyman forward has been all around the country, but he knows several Carolina players from his time with the Blackhawks organization. Hurricanes backup goalie Michael Leighton was a teammate of Thornton's with both Chicago and in Norfolk, the Hawks' AHL affiliate, from 2001 to 2004. Thornton also played with Anton Babchuk and Tuomo Ruutu (both in 2003-04 and 2005-06) with Chicago before rejoining Leighton in the AHL with Portland in 2006-07.
Aaron Ward: Ward won his third Cup in 2006 with Carolina and still lives in the area in the offseason. But other than playing with Matt Cullen with the Rangers after both signed free-agent deals there following Carolina's title, Ward hasn't crossed paths with any of the newer Hurricanes.
Blake Wheeler: Wheeler was briefly a teammate of Hagemo's in 2005-06 at the University of Minnesota (Hagemo played just three games with the Golden Gophers that year), but arguably his biggest connection to Raleigh was being drafted here. With the fifth overall pick in the 2004 Entry Draft at the RBC Center, Phoenix took Wheeler.