With two off days in the books and seemingly at least three more on the way, the Carolina Hurricanes and the team’s fan base are looking forward to the next round of the playoffs but still a ways away.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe ponders the choice between the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets for an opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals.
To be clear, there is no such thing as an easy match up this time of year, so it is not that kind of choice. But it is still interesting to consider the pros and cons of each opponent.
The Boston Bruins are a rare survivor from the group of teams that could have been considered favorites before the playoffs started. The Bruins finished second behind the Lightning in the Atlantic Division but would easily have been in a second tier of teams that had a good chance to make a deep playoff run.
Especially when Tuukka Rask is on, the Bruins are among the stingiest teams in the league defensively. Boston finished the regular season third in goals allowed. The Bruins have a nice mix of young and old on the line with veterans Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug and good group of young defensemen led by Charlie McAvoy.
The Bruins also offer a match up challenge with one of the best scoring lines in the league in Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak. That same trio also leads the way for a power play that ranked third in the NHL in terms of proficiency. If the Bruins have a weakness, it could be that they are a bit top-heavy offensively. David Krejci posted an impressive 73 points, but after that forward scoring drops off to 42 points for Jake DeBrusk and then only 34 points for Danton Heinen during the 2018-19 regular season. The addition of Charlie Coyle at the trade deadline added good depth scoring, but the Bruins are still pretty dependent on the top line leading the way.
What I like about matching up against the Bruins: At least on home ice, I like the Hurricanes chances of focusing on and slowing a top-heavy offense. Though Rask is playing well right now, he can be up and down, so I like the possibility of cracking him and seeing if that has a momentum type effect on his play.
What I dislike about matching up against the Bruins: On the road, it will be challenging to stop Bergeron’s line when the Bruins can hand pick a few match ups here and there. As noted above, the Bruins have a nice veteran/youth mix on the blue line and are a deep group. As such, it might difficult to gain the effect needed from the Hurricanes forecheck to fuel the offense.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Despite squeaking into the 2019 playoffs with the final wild card slot, the Blue Jackets are very much built to win now. With Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky scheduled to become free agents this summer, the Blue Jackets could have been sellers at the trade deadline looking to collect something for players before their potential departure. Instead, the Blue Jackets went all in at the trade deadline adding arguably the top forward rental in Matt Duchene and also adding other depth players. The results were not instantaneous as the team sputtered at first. But the Blue Jackets did seem to figure it out late in the regular season and then posted an impressive four-game sweep over the Lightning.
The Blue Jackets might well have the best skills from each of the Hurricanes’ first two opponents. The bread and butter of the Blue Jackets under John Tortorella has been a hard-charging style that forechecks aggressively and attempts to control games by taking away time and space and forcing turnovers. So in that regard, the difficulty to advance the puck could match the good version of the New York Islanders. But at the same time, the Blue Jackets have a bit more raw offensive fire power like the Capitals. So at least in theory, the Blue Jackets could be the best of the Islanders and Capitals rolled up into one.
The defensive side of the puck is interesting. Sergei Bobrovsky has long been among the NHL’s best goalies in the regular season, but prior to this season had never been great in the playoffs. But thus far in the 2019 playoffs, he has been able to maintain a high level of play into the playoffs. The core of the Blue Jackets blue line includes great young defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Especially with the trade deadline additions, the Blue Jackets are a deep and balanced team.
What I like about matching up against the Blue Jackets: The Hurricanes would have home ice advantage against the Blue Jackets. Partly because a couple players lean offense, I think the Blue Jackets blue line could be a bit more vulnerable to being exploited by the Hurricanes forecheck if it gets going.
What I dislike about matching up against the Blue Jackets: I think the perfect storm in a bad way could be if the Blue Jackets are able to slow the Hurricanes north-south game somewhat like the Islanders did in games 1 and 2 but at the same time be better at capitalizing on scoring chances. And though he is a bit of a wild card because of his playoff history, Bobrovsky has the potential to rise up and be a big advantage.
Where I land
This might sound odd, but of the teams remaining in the playoffs, the one I dislike most as a match up for the Carolina Hurricanes is the Blue Jackets. That is not to say that they are necessarily the best team remaining. Rather, I just think their style of play and roster could give the Hurricanes the most trouble. The Blue Jackets have the ability to play a four lines deep game of forechecking and defending the neutral zone to make it different for the Hurricanes to play north-south with pace which is their strength. The Islanders did a pretty good job of that with success at least defensively through two games, but the difference is that the Blue Jackets have more higher-end scoring skill distributed throughout their lineup. I think the worst case scenario against Blue Jackets if the Blue Jackets can slow the Hurricanes somewhat like the Isles did in games 1 and 2 but at the same time be much more effective converting at transition points because of having more skilled scorers like Panarin and Duchene who are dangerous with the puck on their sticks. Though he historically has not been a great playoff goalie, Bobrovsky seems to be rounding into form and has the potential to be the type of goalie who shifts a series. (Yes. I realize some will argue that the same is true for Rask.)
I am torn on whether the Bruins being a bit top-heavy offensively is easier or harder to deal with. I think on home ice in Raleigh, it is easier to match up and manage that part of the game, whereas in Boston it could be problematic.
I would not expect either series to be an easy one, but I slightly prefer that the Hurricanes play the Bruins despite giving up possible home ice to do so.
A poll from Saturday
Here is where people landed in a quick Twitter poll from Saturday:
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) May 4, 2019
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who would you rather the Hurricanes face in the Eastern Conference Finals and why?
2) What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses for Boston?
3) What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses for Columbus?