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Carolina Hurricanes Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Preview: Ranking the Canes’ possible opponents

With the list of potential opponents the Hurricanes can face in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals narrowed down to two, we take a look at which team the Canes want to play, and which team Carolina would like to avoid.

NHL: DEC 03 Hurricanes at Bruins Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the Canes sit and wait for the other qualifying-round series and the seeding round-robin to conclude, Carolina’s potential opponents for its first-round series that will start next week has been narrowed down to just two teams.

While the Canes don’t even know what seed they will play yet, the math dictates that Carolina will meet either the Washington Capitals or the Boston Bruins when the more traditional first round of the playoffs kicks off.

The Hurricanes will be the top seed out of the qualifying round if Montreal can finish out its 2-1 series lead over Pittsburgh, and that will mean a matchup with the fourth-place finisher in the seeding round-robin. If the Penguins can come back to win that series, Pittsburgh will face the four seed and Carolina will face the three seed.

With two wins and four points, the Lightning and Flyers will play Saturday for the top seed, while the loser of that game will be the two. The Atlantic Division champion Bruins and Metropolitan Division champion Capitals will meet in the other round-robin game Sunday, with the winner taking the three seed and the loser taking the four seed.

Carolina won’t know which of those two teams it will play until after that game Sunday, but for now we can take a look at both and rank them against each other. Here’s how the Capitals and Bruins stack up, and which one the Hurricanes would likely rather play:

2. Washington Capitals

  • Regular Season Record: 41-20-8, 90 points
  • Goals For Per Game: 3.42
  • Goals Against Per Game: 3.12
  • Power Play: 19.4% (17th in NHL)
  • Penalty Kill: 82.6% (sixth in NHL)
  • Record vs. Canes: 2-1-1

Leading Scorers:

  • John Carlson (15-60-75)
  • Alex Ovechkin (48-19-67)
  • Nicklas Backstrom (12-42-54)
  • Jakub Vrana (25-27-52)
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov (19-33-52)

There’s a certainly familiarity here for Carolina, as a series against the Capitals would mark the second straight year the Metropolitan Division foes met in the playoffs. Everyone of course remembers how that went for the Canes last year, as Brock McGinn’s double-overtime winner in game seven gave the Hurricanes the win.

In the regular-season series, the Hurricanes won two while the Capitals won two and lost one in overtime, giving Washington the one-point edge over Carolina.

The Capitals can definitely score, that much is for sure. Washington’s 3.42 goals per game were the second most in the NHL this season, as Alex Ovechkin finished tied for the league lead with 48 goals. Jakub Vrana, T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson all also finished with over 20 goals.

While Washington can score with the best of them, the Capitals do falter some on the other side of the ice. The Capitals gave up 3.07 goals against per game during the regular season, putting them in the bottom half of the league at 18th.

Goaltender Braden Holtby had by far the worst year of his career during the 2019-20 regular season, posting a 3.11 GAA and .897 save percentage. Both of those numbers were the worst of his career by far, with the 3.11 GAA being over .10 higher than his previous worst season. It was also the first time in his career that his save percentage dipped below the .900 mark.

Holtby’s struggles during the regular season were somewhat countered by the play of rookie netminder Ilya Samsonov, whose 2.55 GAA and .913 save percentage were far better than Holtby’s.

Samsonov’s abilities will do the Capitals no good in a potential Canes-Caps first-round series though, as Samsonov is not with the team in the Toronto bubble after suffering an injury during the layoff. It’ll be the struggling Holtby, who has given up five goals in two round-robin games so far, in net for the Caps for this playoffs.

  1. Boston Bruins
  • Regular Season Record: 44-14-12, 100 points
  • Goals For Per Game: 3.24
  • Goals Against Per Game: 2.49
  • Power Play: 25.2% (second in NHL)
  • Penalty Kill: 84.3% (third in NHL)
  • Record vs. Canes: 1-0-0

Leading Scorers:

  • David Pastrnak (48-47-95)
  • Brad Marchand (28-59-87)
  • Patrice Bergeron (31-25-56)
  • Torey Krug (9-40-49)
  • David Krejci (13-30-43)

Boston hasn’t looked great so far since hockey resumed, losing both games its played in the seeding round-robin, but that definitely doesn’t mean you want to run into the Bruins. With 100 points at the time things got shut down, Boston finished the regular season with eight more points than any other team in the Eastern Conference and six more points than any other team in the entire NHL.

The Bruins are legitimate cup contenders, touting one of the best defensive units in the NHL to go along with one of the best top lines as well. In the Bruins’ only regular-season meeting with the Hurricanes, Boston came away with a 2-0 win behind goals from Charlie Coyle and David Krejci, as well as a 24-save shutout from backup netminder Jaroslav Halak.

Let’s start with Boston’s attack. With 3.24 goals for per game, Boston was the ninth-highest scoring team in the NHL this season (two spots above Carolina). A huge part of the Bruins’ offense came from its top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, who combined for a staggering 238 points in 70 games.

Pastrnak’s 48 goals tied Ovechkin for the league lead, while Marchand’s 59 assists were the fifth most in the league. Boston’s power play was the second-most prolific in the NHL, as the Bruins really are dangerous when they have the puck.

As good as Pastrnak and the other forwards are, it’s Boston’s defensive abilities that really make the Bruins special. With just 2.49 goals against per game, Boston allowed .13 fewer goals per game than the second stingiest team in the league, the Dallas Stars.

Boston’s top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy is fantastic, and the second pairing of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo could be a lot of teams’ top duo. Scoring on the Bruins’ defensemen isn’t easy, and it gets even harder when you consider the man in net.

Vezina Trophy finalist Tukka Rask fills the pipes for the Bruins, and he put together another really great campaign in 2019-20. Rask’s 2.12 GAA was the third best in the league, while his .929 save percentage put him sixth.

Rask was absolutely fantastic in net this season, as was his backup, Halak. Halak’s 2.39 GAA was top-10 in the NHL, as he played well enough to earn himself 29 starts behind Rask. The Bruins can’t go wrong with either guy in net, though it’ll be Rask.

In Conclusion

The fact that the Hurricanes may end up being the top seed to get out of the qualifying round and could have to face the Bruins is a brutal reality, as Boston’s struggles so far in the round-robin are by no means an indication of what that team is capable of.

You don’t want to run into an angry Boston team in round one, as a meeting with the much more familiar Capitals is more appealing in every way.

The Canes and their fans should be rooting for a Boston win Sunday accompanied by a Montreal series win over Pittsburgh, or a Boston loss with a Penguins series win. If it goes another way, it’ll mean the Canes meeting up with arguably the best team in the NHL in the Bruins.