In case you missed it last night, I went off the ice to offer a Carolina Hurricanes fans’ guide to the NHL’s center stage and the coverage that comes with it.
Back on the ice, part 1 of my Carolina Hurricanes/Boston Bruins series preview looked at the Bruins side. Today’s part 2 looks at the keys to the series from the Carolina Hurricanes side.
1) The forecheck
Each of my first two series previews also had the effectiveness of the Hurricanes forecheck as a key to the series. Somewhat surprisingly, the Hurricanes have won consecutive series without the team’s top scorers firing on all cylinders. To be clear, regular season top scorers Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter and Justin Williams have contributed both on the score sheet and otherwise. But thus far, that group has not been as dynamic as it was during the its peak in the regular season.
In both series, the fuel for the Hurricanes offense was the team’s forecheck. When the forecheck is playing at its top level, it drives possession time in the offensive zone and creates scoring chances spread across the entire lineup. The result is a balanced scoring effort that is not overly dependent on individual efforts or designated scoring lines. Against a Bruins team whose greatest strength is defense, the ability of the Hurricanes to generate offensive zone puck possession and pressure and also scoring chances will again be critical in this series.
In addition, the success of the Hurricanes forecheck is a key component for the team’s defense. When the Hurricanes forecheck is ineffective, opponents are able to get quickly behind the first layer and attack the neutral zone and blue line with speed. Especially against Washington, this scenario was front and center during most the Hurricanes struggles in that series.
Burning question: Against a team with a strong blue line, will the Hurricanes be able to repeat their forechecking success from the two previous series and again use it as a catalyst for the offense?
2) The ability to slow Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak
The Bruins are a great defensive team that is a bit top heavy offensively. The Bruins top trio are capable of winning hockey games almost single-handedly and they did exactly that in one of the Bruins regular season wins over the Canes. The Hurricanes do not need to completely shut the trio down, but what they must do is two things. First, at home where they can dictate match ups, the Hurricanes will need to be at least break even matching up to shut down Bergeron’s line. In addition, to get a road win or two, the Hurricanes will need to be able to at least slow the group in a game or two.
Burning question(s): At home with preferred match ups, can the Hurricanes slow Bergeron’s line? On the road where it will be more challenging, can the Hurricanes find a game or two where that group has a quieter night?
3) Staying even on special teams
Coming into this series, the Carolina Hurricanes special teams have mustered a few powerful bursts but have generally not been great in the playoffs. Fueled again by Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak, the Bruins power play is a good one. The Hurricanes strength in the playoffs has been 5-on-5 play, so the Hurricanes do not necessarily need to win the special teams battle, but they cannot afford to lose by a wide margin.
Burning question(s): With a couple days off to practice, can the Hurricanes make adjustments/improvements to the power play? On the penalty kill, can the Hurricanes re-find the higher gear from the regular season and stymie the Bruins power play?
Both teams defend well. Goals could be at a premium in this series. In tightly-contested games with minimal margin for error, goaltending steps into the spotlight. Any kind of goaltending advantage could be the difference in any single game and the series in total. Tuukka Rask comes into the series red hot. Before missing the last two games of the Islanders series, Petr Mrazek was also at the top of his game. For the Hurricanes to win the series, the team will need either Mrazek or McElhinney to play at a high level and match Rask at least until the Canes can crack him.
Burning question(s): Can the Hurricanes crack Rask and trigger the down part of his up and down play? After some time off, can Mrazek quickly re-find a high hear?
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you see as the keys to the series for the Hurricanes?
2) Do you think the Hurricanes can do enough offensively and defensively if the forecheck is not at the top of its game?
3) Who do you see as likely heroes for the Eastern Conference Finals on the Canes side?