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First-Round Preview: Skaters

With a deeper roster than in any of their recent playoff runs, will the offseason additions prove to be the key for Carolina?

NHL: FEB 10 Hurricanes at Bruins Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes will be facing off against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs... again.

It will be the third meeting in the last four seasons between these two clubs, with the Bruins having won the previous two series 4-0 in 2019 and 4-1 in 2020.

This year, the Hurricanes have a deeper forward group than in any of their previous three playoff runs, so will this be the year that they finally defeat the Bruins?


Projected Carolina Hurricanes Lineup

Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho - Seth Jarvis
Teuvo Teravainen - Vincent Trocheck - Max Domi
Nino Niederreiter - Jordan Staal - Jesper Fast
Jordan Martinook - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Martin Necas

Jaccob Slavin - Tony DeAngelo
Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce
Ian Cole - Ethan Bear

Extras: Derek Stepan, Steven Lorentz, Brendan Smith

Projected Boston Bruins Lineup

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jake DeBrusk
Taylor Hall - Erik Haula - David Pastrnak
Trent Frederik - Charlie Coyle - Craig Smith
Nick Foligno - Tomas Nosek - Curtis Lazar

Charlie McAvoy - Hampus Lindholm
Matt Grzelcyk - Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort - Connor Clifton

Extras: Anton Blidh, Oskar Steen, Mike Reilly, Josh Brown


Forwards

Top-Six

When it comes to the marquee matchup between the two teams, the Hurricanes’ top guys will have their work cut out for them against a proven pair of shutdown specialists.

Even at 36, Patrice Bergeron is having one of his best statistical seasons in terms of overall impact and he is the current favorite for the Selkie trophy. Combine that with a proven track record and ample experience and you can see why the Bruins have been so successful for so long.

Add in Brad Marchand, the league’s number one instigator, who is also a force on both sides of the puck and that duo can make any line boil over in frustration. To complement the pair, Jake DeBrusk has been chugging away since the new year, scoring 20 of his 25 goals in 2022 alone.

For Carolina, Sebastian Aho is the dynamo in the middle that makes it all work. He’s produced at over a point per game in his playoff career and once again registered an 80-point season for the Hurricanes.

Andrei Svechnikov hasn’t been able to put together a dominant postseason run for the Canes yet, but setting career highs in every category should be a good jumping off point for him to make an impact in this year’s postseason. Past those two franchise cornerstones, the top line will feature the rookie Seth Jarvis, who albeit having a good season, is still so young.

In terms of overall experience, it’s a pretty lopsided matchup, but will it be the time for a new regime to rise?

Past the top guys, the Bruins have a line that has heated up tremendously in April.

Erik Haula, who the Canes will get to see as an agitator in the postseason once again, has found his scoring touch once again in the last two months, Taylor Hall has been chugging along at a steady pace and David Pastrnak, the Bruins’ best true goal scorer, is back from injury and finding chemistry outside the top line.

A big reason why the Bruins were struggling to start the season was because of this lines lack of production, but now it seems that they have two potent scoring lines again.

It also means that the Hurricanes are going to need a big performance from their second line in return. Vincent Trocheck has had a distinct lack of chemistry with anybody this season leading to a constant rotating cast of wingers.

However, as of late, Carolina has found a spark with Teuvo Teravainen and Max Domi supporting Trocheck. The Hurricanes need this line to gain some momentum and produce if they want to topple the B’s.

Bottom-Six

The Jordan Staal line is going to feast. No doubt about it. The way that Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast have played all season should give Canes fans confidence heading into this series.

The only potential holdup would be that Nino Niederreiter has had virtually no playoff impact for the Hurricanes since his arrival, but this is the best year for that to change.

Boston has some interesting depth with Craig Smith playing in a third line role and with the bounce back season of Charlie Coyle, the pair could be a handful. They are supported by Trent Frederik, but he isn’t much more than another physical instigator.

Boston’s fourth line doesn’t have much if any potential offense, but just like the rest of the Bruins lineup, they specialize in defense.

In contrast, Carolina will have Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the fourth line who will be working alongside Martin Necas and more than likely Jordan Martinook. Kotkaniemi and Necas should be able to create some space and opportunities on Boston’s bottom guys and Martinook has the ability to create space for them with his physicality.

These are the two lines that Carolina should be easily able to tilt the ice with.


Defense

Top Pair

Jaccob Slavin and Charlie McAvoy showcase two of the best shutdown talents in the entirety of the NHL. McAvoy gets the edge on Slavin in terms of offensive production, but Tony DeAngelo more than makes up for that gap with his elite offensive acumen.

The biggest drop-off between the top pairs though is that Hampus Lindholm is a much better defender than DeAngelo is.

McAvoy eats up minutes and alongside Lindholm, the pair will be entrusted to shutdown the Hurricanes’ top guys, protect leads and generally limit most high-danger chances.

The same can’t be said for the Hurricanes’ top pair due to the drop-off in DeAngelo’s defensive awareness, but it isn’t like he’s a lost cause out there. He can hold his own, but the point is that the Bruins’ top pair has a definite edge.

Second Pair

In terms of actual defensive assignments, Carolina’s second pair usually gets the tougher matchups. The steady pair of Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei have been a staple for the Hurricanes’ defensive game.

Skjei led the Hurricanes’ defense in even-strength points and also had one of the best even-strength scoring rates among NHL defensemen, and Pesce wasn’t too bad himself.

This will be the pair that the Hurricanes lean the most on for killing penalties, protecting leads and also to chip in on offense.

For the Bruins, they will more than likely be pairing one of their largest defenseman in Brandon Carlo with their smallest in Matt Grzelcyk. Both are capable defenders with Grzelcyk having more of an offensive upside than his partner. It will be yet another hard pair for the Hurricanes’ offense to try to get through though.

Bottom Pair

Ian Cole will be starting for the Hurricanes Game 1, but in terms of who will be beside him? That’s a toss up. That’s not to say that Brendan Smith has earned that honor, but more so to say that Ethan Bear has lost a bit of the trust of the coaching staff.

Bear is a talented puck mover in transition and has a good shot and ability to get shots through traffic, but he panics under pressure and the mistakes seem to compound fast after the first one.

The Canes have had a problem with getting rattled in their last few playoff runs, with multi-goal leads evaporating in mere minutes multiple times, so it would make sense if the Canes’ coaching staff is weary about that.

On the other side, Boston will have Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton holding down the bottom pairing, with the chance for Mike Reilly to see action if the Bruins are needing a scoring boost.

Again, Boston protects the middle of the ice really well and this duo is no different. Forbort is another big defenseman and Clifton is a bit undersized so maybe Carolina can try to work that to their advantage, but the drop-off between your top and bottom guys will always be apparent.