Today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 3 of 3 of a Carolina Hurricanes versus Boston Bruins series preview.
Today’s series finale pointedly looks at what I think will be the determining factors in the series.
The Canes will win the series if _____
1) The forecheck is again effective
Two things have been the primary drivers for the Hurricanes success through two rounds. First, the deep and strong blue line has overall been a difference-maker on the defensive side of the puck. Second, the forecheck has fueled an offensive attack that is not super heavy on leadership but rather has relied on balance. More than anything, I think the playoff Hurricanes level of play is directly related to how effective the forecheck is. That especially showed in the first series. The Capitals were better able to beat the Hurricanes forecheck in Washington which mostly gave them the upper hand attacking with speed into the offensive zone. But in Raleigh where the Canes forecheck won out, the scoreboard showed the same. Boston represents a new challenge with a blue line that is pretty steady at the top with a mix of young and old but also is a question mark down at the third pairing. If the Hurricanes can dial up the fast, swarming version of the forecheck and use it to tilt the ice into the offensive zone, they should win this series.
2) Tuukka Rask cracks
Coming into this series, Rask is playing at an incredibly high level like he can. But Rask’s history is that of an up and down goalie whose lows can be pretty low. Columbus head coach John Tortorella tried unsuccessfully to play mind games with Rask suggesting that Columbus had dented him in game 6. The effort was not fruitful, but I do think there is something to it. The situation reminds me a bit of Jose Theodore in 2002. He came into the second-round series against the Hurricanes as the best player in the playoffs. That continued through the first few games of the series as he built his Conn-Smyth resume seemingly on the way to eliminating the Hurricanes. But ones the Hurricanes cracked him, it was like the dam broke. The Hurricanes scored in bunches after that and never looked back on the way to a six-game series win. I think the same can happen with Rask, so I will be watching to see if the Canes can crack Rask and if they do if there is a carry over effect into next games.
The Canes will lose the series if _____
1) Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak dominate
Heading into the series the top line is Boston’s Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak. They are a handful and will be especially challenging to stop on the road. The Hurricanes do not need to completely shut them down, and they do not need to slow them every game, but a key to the series will be corralling them in Raleigh with last change and favorable match ups and mustering at least a game or two in which balanced play does similar on the road. If the Hurricanes cannot stop the trio and instead find themselves having to try to out-gun them, this series likely ends badly.
2) Tuukka Rask is significantly better than Petr Mrazek
If healthy, I am expecting Mrazek to return to net. Regardless, the Hurricanes will be hard-pressed to win the series if Rask maintains his high level of play and the Hurricanes goalies are unable to match him. Against a good team, any sizable disadvantage in net will be incredibly difficult to overcome. Psyche-wise, I really like Mrazek in this regard. He has already shown the ability to rebound in the Capitals series and seems to feed off of the pressure-packed games.
3) The series turns into a special teams battle
In this regard, the Bruins remind me a bit of the Washington Capitals. Again led by Bergeron and company, the Bruins have a dangerous power play. Meanwhile the Hurricanes have struggled more often than not on special teams in the playoffs. The break between series afforded the Hurricanes a chance to hunker down and practice special teams a bit, so there is hope for improvement. But the better path forward is another series heavy on the 5-on-5 play that is the Hurricanes bread and butter.
Netting it out
It is more hunch than science, but I really think the series hinges on the Hurricanes ability to reasonably consistently gain an edge with their forechecking. That has been the fuel for the offense, and that also minimizes the amount and level of defense that the Hurricanes have to play. That, and my gut instinct tells me that Rask is breakable and that the series becomes much easier if he is broken.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these factors do you see as most critical to deciding the series?
2) Which one(s) concern you most in terms of the Canes not performing well?
3) Who has additional ‘win if’ and ‘lose if’ items for the series?