Ten years later, the Carolina Hurricanes are back in the postseason and they’re back in the Eastern Conference Final.
Thursday night’s game one against the Boston Bruins will serve as a massive test for the Canes, who are coming off of a long layoff and will have to fight through some potential early issues in a rabid environment at TD Garden.
Two teams remain in the East. One team will go to the Stanley Cup Final. Here are some keys for Carolina to pick up a potentially massive game one win.
The Best Line in Hockey
For my money, the best forward line in hockey resides in Bean Town and features three elite players in David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. With all due respect to the Capitals’ top trio, these three are going to be a bigger handful than any of the lines Carolina saw from Washington or New York.
The Bruins’ first line forces you to be alert and on your game all night long. If you let up for even a shift or two, you’re asking for big trouble. They wear you down and control the puck, which makes it imperative that Carolina’s matchup (primarily the Jordan Staal line, though Bruce Cassidy will be sure to use the last change to his advantage and try to pin Carolina’s the bottom six in their own end) enforces that same style of play and keeps them out of the offensive zone.
Especially with being on the road and coming off of a long layoff, the Hurricanes have to keep it simple. North-south/low-risk hockey is a must here, and getting pucks out of the zone needs to be an emphasis both with the Canes’ forward group and d-core. A turnover with that Boston line on the ice can quickly end up in the back of the net. They have unreal chemistry that has been built over multiple seasons of dominant play.
Part of the “fun” with the Bruins, though, is that they’re far more than a one-line team. David Krejci is on a tear in the middle of their second line, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson are a pair of dangerous offensive players on the third line, and Sean Kuraly is equal parts fun to watch and a pain to play against in the bottom-six.
Are You Up to the Rask?
Fresh off of a 39-save shutout in Boston’s closeout game six win over the Blue Jackets, Tuukka Rask is playing some of the best hockey of his entire career at the moment and doing so on a big stage.
Regardless of if it’s valid or not, the narrative following Rask has been his inability to perform at a high level in the postseason. He’s shushing everyone in these playoffs and there’s no reason to think that he’ll crumble under the pressure of this Eastern Conference Final.
After a somewhat underwhelming regular season, he’s rolling into round three sporting an NHL-best .938 save percentage among goalies with four or more appearances. This harkens back to the first point. Carolina has to control possession and bring constant pressure on Rask in order to wear him down and hope to find some consistent goal production both tonight and through the rest of this series.
Rest or Rust?
If the Hurricanes win tonight, the five-day break will be described as a huge advantage. If they lose, people will say the Canes are over-rested and perhaps rusty.
There’s some validity in both argument’s benefits and side effects, but a long break isn’t a real excuse when you reach this point. It’s the Eastern Conference Final. You have to be ready to go, and if you’re not, you better figure it out in short order.
Carolina was fortunate enough to not play their best hockey in games one and two against the Islanders and still come away with a sweep of their opponent’s home-ice advantage. I really don’t think they’ll be as lucky this time around if they come out with a disorganized game. This Boston team is just too good, and while they didn’t get as much rest as Carolina, they did get two days to recuperate and quickly reload for the Eastern Conference Final.