For the third consecutive Canes postseason run (2009, 2019, 2020), they will have to get through the Bruins if they want to make a Stanley Cup run - they’ve had a 50% success rate on that front over the last two attempts.
We continue our preview of this series at the last line of defense - the goalies.
Each team is likely to deploy a different game plan with their backstops. For the Canes, it includes two guys sharing the net and getting the best out of both of them. For the Bruins, it includes one of the best starters in the league who is poised to steal games and perhaps an entire series.
Petr Mrazek and James Reimer
If you picked Carolina’s goaltending to reign over New York’s goaltending in the qualifying round, you made a very bold prediction that paid off.
Rod Brind’Amour’s goalie tandem combined for a staggering .970 save percentage at 5-on-5 play during the qualifiers, allowing just two goals on 66 shots. Overall, the dup allowed just four goals on 88 shots, which is good for a .955 save percentage in the series.
Carolina’s team defense was a big reason for that success, too. The Hurricanes had the clear advantage in scoring chances in games one and two, setting up Mrazek for success before the floodgate really opened on Reimer in game three.
The team has yet to announce who their game one starter will be, but judging off of the previous round and the performances from both net-minders, I’m expecting Mrazek to get the nod for the opening game. Reimer’s excellent, game-stealing performance in game three against the Rangers, coupled with his strong showing way back in the exhibition game, makes the conversation very interesting though, and both goalies will certainly see game time.
During the regular season, the Canes and Bruins met just once, and that was a game at TD Garden on December 3 wherein the game went almost 56 minutes without a goal before the B’s broke through twice in just over a minute to take and hold onto a 2-0 win.
Reimer had the net for that game, wherein he allowed two goals on 34 shots.
Carolina’s goalie approach is unique, and they will force Boston to see multiple guys and they likely won’t know who they’re going against until the very last second. Luckily, for the Canes, both options are viable.
Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak
Unlike the Hurricanes, the Bruins are entering the first round of the playoffs with next to no positive feelings with regards to their play.
The B’s went winless in their three round-robin games, and their inability to keep the puck out of the net was part of their rough stretch.
At 5-on-5 play, Boston’s tandem allowed eight goals on 75 shots, which rings in at a sub-.900 team save percentage. They were at an even .900 save percentage in all situations.
That being said, three rough team games doesn’t diminish the very tall task that the Hurricanes will face with the Bruins’ goalies.
During the regular season, the President’s Trophy winners were the best in the league at limiting goal against, allowing just 174 goals in 70 games with a team save percentage of .921 at 5-on-5 play. That ranked 15 points higher than the league average of .906. And of course, they allowed the fewest goals against, which means that Rask and Halak combined to win the William M. Jennings Trophy.
Rask started 41 of those games and was truly fantastic. His .929 save percentage ranked second across the NHL and he recorded a phenomenal 22.51 goals saved above replacement, which led the NHL.
It was a massive year for the 33-year-old backstop, and it’s hard for me to think that will change for him in the opening round
His net-partner is 35-year-old Halak, who was once again maybe the best back-up in the league. He recorded a .919 save percentage and 8.83 goals save above average in his 29 starts.
It’s fine for the Hurricanes to feel good about their goalie situation entering this playoff series. Their duo was excellent in the qualifying round and their team defense was, largely, very good.
That being said, though, they don’t have Tuukka Rask.
The Canes will absolutely use both goalies in this series, but the Bruins might not. Would it shock me if Rask gets both ends of a back-to-back? No. And even if he didn’t, their back-up goalie play is as strong as any team in hockey with Halak.
The common denominator for both goalies, though, is the team defense in front of them. The Bruins are just an excellent hockey team front to back and it’s going to take everything the Cane shave in order to beat them.
Perhaps Boston’s struggles in the opening games make it so the Hurricanes are seeing them at the perfect time, but the flip-side is that they might be getting an angry Bruins team that knows how disappointing they were in the round-robin game.
Regardless, the Hurricanes and Bruins will have a very interesting goalie matchup. In Carolina, you have a tandem that will be relied upon heavily. In Boston, you have a Vezina Trophy finalist poised for another strong postseason.