Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at TD Garden
Very quietly, in the deep shadow of the juggernaut that is the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Boston Bruins have put together a season that in most years would challenge for, or even run away with, a division title. Instead, the Bruins are cruising merrily along in second place in the Atlantic Division, and anticipate what could be one of the better second round playoff matchups, should they advance and meet up with the Bolts there.
The Bruins have been powered all season by a terrific defense and goaltending (second-fewest goals against), but have plenty of high-end offensive talent to roll up a big number on select nights. The goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak has been almost identical in the quality and frequency of their play, with each goalie seeing greater than 30 starts and posting a .922 and .924 save percentage respectively. Combined with an identical 2.29 goals against average, the Bruins have seem a level of consistency in net that has provided the type of backbone needed for a team to set out on a 100+ point pace.
The Bruins sought to augment their middle-of-the-pack offense at the trade deadline as they brought in Charlie Coyle from Minnesota and Marcus Johansson from New Jersey. Those additions will look to fill a bigger void in the interim, as the Bruins will spend at least a few more weeks without arguably their top offensive weapon as David Pastrnak continues to recover from a thumb injury. Pastrnak should return for the playoffs, allowing for the newcomers to provided needed scoring depth, but with playoff-tested performers such as Brad Marchand (76 points, tops on the team), Patrice Bergeron (59 points), and David Krejci (55 points) still around, the Bruins should have enough offense available in the postseason if they can continue their terrific defensive work.
For the Hurricanes to have success in Boston on Whalers Night part deux, they must apply constant pressure in the Boston end. In order to strike against the Bruins, it will take a handful of chances to do so. Additionally, tougher net front play is a must, otherwise the Canes will be taking low percentage shots from the perimeter all night. Games like Tuesday would be rather large to add to the win column in a tight playoff race.
What to Watch For
- In the offensive zone, see how much traffic the Canes are able to create in front of the net. This is something the Bruins defense clears out well. Can the Canes sustain position?
- Obviously, check out those green Whalers threads the Canes will be sporting. It will be interesting to see/hear the reaction of New Englanders who witness this throwback evening.
Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Winnipeg Jets have ascended to the top spot within the Central Division with a narrow one point advantage over the Nashville Predators. Trade deadline acquisitions in the Central were a big part of deadline day, and Winnipeg was not left out in the cold as they wrangled Kevin Hayes away from the Rangers as their prized piece, and a few small deals that netted the Jets depth in Matt Hendricks, Nathan Beaulieu, and Par Lindholm. The Jets appear set for what should be a terrific Central Division playoff with the Predators and the St. Louis Blues.
While the Jets are certainly a well-rounded team, the addition of Hayes’ size in the middle provides them with one of the bigger group of centers in the game, and could make them tough to play against this spring. The Jets have long had an explosive offense, but things have not gone exactly according to plan this season for Patrik Laine as the young winger has only accrued 43 points on the season. His 29 goal performance has been expected, but his 14 assists have shown that his unwillingness to share the puck at times may be hurting his continued growth as one of the game’s elite offensive talents.
Fortunately for the Jets, with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler well above a point-per-game on the top line, the offense has been able to pick up plenty of slack. And with Connor Hellebuyck established as a number one netminder, the Jets appear locked and loaded for another run to the Western Conference Final.
Control of tempo will be key for the Canes if they are to play their game against the Jets. Having last change at home should allow them to gain the matchups they want, including Staal and company against the top line for the Jets. If the Canes can keep the top line in check, they will have a fighting chance against the well-balanced Jets.
What to Watch For
- The Jets own the sixth-best powerplay in the game (24.88%), but lag into the 20’s on the penalty kill. Can the Canes stay out of the box and potentially take advantage of chances with their own man advantage?
- The Jets one current weakness is on their blueline with Dustin Byfuglien, Joe Morrow, and Josh Morrissey all out until at least mid-March with injuries. Getting pucks behind the defense could be a good way to create offense with the forecheck, and at the same time temper the offensive breakout of the Jets.
Saturday, 8:00 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena
With two major acquisitions on deadline day, the Nashville Predators added beef and toughness to their forward lines. Wayne Simmonds was the biggest piece added, as the long-time Flyer was sent over in exchange for Ryan Hartman and a pick. Simmonds is a known entity in front of the net, and should provide an overall toughness boost as well as a jolt to the powerplay. Mikael Granlund arrived from the Wild in exchange for Kevin Fiala, and Granlund promptly reached the 50-point mark on the season upon his arrival in Music City. Both Granlund and Simmonds should provide a sturdy two-way game to the Preds that again make them a Central Division and Western Conference contender this Spring.
The scoring for the Preds has been balanced all season, but Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson have led the charge in terms of production from the forwards. Where the Preds stand out, however, is with their blueline offensive output. The quartet of Roman Josi (52 points), Mattias Ekholm (42 points), Ryan Ellis (35 points), and P.K. Subban (24 points) have combined to tally 153 points for the Preds. That kind of danger from the defensive core has proven to be deadly as teams must account for everyone on the ice in an offensive capacity.
In net, the Preds still rely upon Pekka Rinne who, at 36, has maintained a solid level of play in his 45 starts. Sitting at a .914 save percentage and 2.50 goals against, Rinne has proven that he is still capable of steering a ship to the playoffs, but the challenge will be Rinne remaining consistent enough to drive a team all the way to the promised land.
With Carolina on the back end of a back-to-back, and Nashville rested at home, getting off to a good start will be crucial. With dying legs against a fresh team, playing catch-up all night is not a recipe for success.
What to Watch For
- The Canes have carried heavy legs recently in the second of back-to-backs, but have been bailed out by terrific goal-tending in some of those performances. Can the Canes again get electric play in net from either Curtis McElhinney or Petr Mrazek?
- This game will be a battle of two of the more talented defensive groups in all of hockey. Watch the level of play on the back end for both teams.