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Systems Analyst: Possess, Possess, Possess

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In an evenly matched series, both team’s sustained forechecking efforts have paid dividends.

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Two Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins split the opening games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal with a pair of one-goal games. The scores have been indicative of how tight the contests have been.

Space has been limited and Grade-A scoring chances have been hard to find due to tight defensive play from each side. But both teams have found success at the end of long cycle shifts.

In game 1, Haydn Fleury’s equalizer in the third period came after some strong board work from Ryan Dzingel and Vincent Trocheck against tired Boston defenders.

Instead of just throwing the puck towards the slot or crease, Dzingel maintains possession and protects the puck until Trocheck can take over and move the puck to the eventual goal scorer, Fleury.

For the Bruins, their offensive zone systems feature more movement, especially from the forwards, than the average NHL cycle set up. It stretches the opposing team’s defenders and forces them to chase and often end up out of position in what appear to be heinous breakdowns.

David Krejci’s goal in game 1 was a prime example of quick puck and player movement confusing the Carolina defenders.

With a bouncing puck, Krejci is able to get free as Charlie McAvoy and the rest of the Bruins go to work.

It was the Hurricanes’ quick offensive zone puck movement which set up Andrei Svechnikov’s marker in game 2. After Trevor van Riemsdyk holds the zone, he snaps a pass to Necas who finds Svechnikov in the slot with a quick pass.

Notice how Svechnikov quickly tight turns free in the high slot once van Riemsdyk moves the puck. The Bruins get caught puck watching and Svechnikov is able to get lost in a prime scoring area.

The game-winning goal in game 2 again came against tired Boston defenders. After an extended cycle, the Hurricanes are able to maintain possession of the puck despite being outnumbered, with all five Bruin skaters in below the tops of the circles. Martin Necas then circles the net and lets Dougie Hamilton step into a one-timer.

With the Bruins tired and out of position, both Boston wingers, one of whom is responsible for covering Hamilton, are on the far side of the ice. Once Necas circles the net, it is too late for them to get back into proper position and Hamilton has a clear lane to shoot.

Even when the teams haven’t been able to set up in zone, puck possession has been the name of the game like on Joel Edmundson’s opening goal in game 1. With the rest of his teammates making a line change, Warren Foegele could have just chipped the puck in deep, but instead maintains possession and and completes a tight turn before finding reinforcements.

Foegele doesn’t get credit for an assist on the play, but without his patience the scoring chance never develops.

Boston’s overtime winner also came through transition play. Brad Marchand wisely waited to turn on the jets until his linemates were with him. That hesitation at his own blue line stretched out the gap between the defenders and the charging Bruins and allowed Marchand and David Pastrnak to attack the flat footed Hurricanes with speed.

The Hurricanes forwards, who were at the end of the long shift, look discombobulated and fail to pick up any of the Bruins, leaving Patrice Bergeron wide open for the game winner.

With both teams playing tight checking defensive hockey, quick strike offensive chances will be difficult to generate through the rest of the series. Maintaining possession and cycle play in the offensive zone will wear down the opposing defenders and be the most effective way to generate high quality offensive opportunities.