The Carolina Hurricanes are all set to take on the mighty Boston Bruins tonight for the first game of their best of seven series. The Bruins have been dominating at times during the regular season and swept the Hurricanes in their scheduled four meetings earlier this year.
Of course, the Hurricanes advanced to the second round of these playoffs by narrowly defeating the New Jersey Devils with a last minute shot at the end of game seven in a very hard fought, evenly matched series.
The Bruins had no trouble sweeping the lifeless Montreal Canadiens, a team which had been in a freefall at the end of the year and who had been facing all kinds of internal problems.
Boston has the most balanced scoring lines in the NHL. Let's take a closer look. (I'm going to provide more detail than usual because it's been awhile since we have played against them.)
Their first line is comprised of PJ Axelsson, Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. Savard is the most dangerous player in this bunch and averages over a point a game. Axelsson has never been a big scorer but is a suitable grinder, and Kessel scored 36 goals this year and is extremely dangerous when he gets hot.
Much like what Paul Maurice tried to do in Carolina with Whitney and Staal, Claude Julien split up his top scorers and put second leading scorer David Krejci on the next line along with Habs reject Michael Ryder and bruiser Milan Lucic.
The third line has banger Mark Recchi, sniper Patrice Bergeron, and the talented Chuck Kobasew.
The fourth line is tough, but they can also score. Youngster Blake Wheeler lit up the Canes at the RBC earlier this year. Shawn Thornton rides shotgun and Stephane Yelle brings some experience.
On defense, everyone knows about Zdeno Chara. He is flanked by Aaron Ward. The next pairing should be Andrew Ference and Dennis Wideman. The last pairing probably will be Mark Stuart and Steve Montador. (Ference is recovering from an undisclosed injury but is expected back tonight).
Last but not least is Vezina candidate, Tim Thomas. The goalie won his first ever playoff series against the Habs just last week.
The leading scorers for the Canes in the playoffs are the same as who led them all year long. Eric Staal and Ray Whitney led the way with seven points each. Chad LaRose also had seven points.
Michael Ryder and Phil Kessel topped the Bruins in scoring against the Habs with seven and six points respectively.
The secondary scorers for Carolina will have to pick up their games if the Hurricanes are to be competitive. Rod Brind'Amour and Erik Cole went pointless in the first series.
While Tim Thomas (GAA 1.50 SV% .946), was barely tested in the series against Montreal, Cam Ward (GAA 2.11 SV% .938) was superb in beating the Devils. Last year, Thomas had a record of 3-4, a GAA of 2.65 and a SV% of .914 in the playoffs.
Much has been made of the Bruins long layoff, and rightfully so. It's expected that they will be a bit rusty and the Canes will have to score quickly in order to take full advantage. But the Canes might be a bit flat after coming off the high of winning a game seven in the fashion they did. Time will tell what happens in the opening period.
Most folk in the Northeast have already penciled the Bruins in for the next round and do not give the Hurricanes much of a chance in this series, but the fans in San Jose know that regular season dominance means little in the playoffs.
Look for the same lineup for the Canes that played in game seven at New Jersey. Game time is at 7:30 and FS Carolinas will have the local broadcast.