With consecutive wins by a total score of 10-3, the Carolina Hurricanes are flying high heading into game 3 in Boston on Friday night.
As I said briefly in my game recap on Wednesday, I would be surprised to see the Hurricanes just run the table for a series sweep. First, though I do think the Hurricanes are the better team and will ultimately prevail, the gap between the teams is smaller than the 10 to 3 goal differential would suggest. Second, being able to control match ups with last change at home will give Bruce Cassidy a few more levers to pull. Finally, veteran leadership will not allow the Bruins to throw in the towel at home.
But Friday’s game is a must-win for the Bruins. If the Canes win game 3, even a Bruins win in game 4 charts with a very high probability for a Canes series win needing to win only one of four games with two of those games at home.
Against that backdrop, here are my watch points for game 3 between the Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins.
1) Effect of changing match ups
In Raleigh with the last change, Brind’Amour matched Jordan Staal’s line up against Bergeron and Marchand, most often with Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce on the back end. Bergeron did score an even strength goal in Wednesday’s game, but the Hurricanes largely won this match up with Jesper Fast and Nino Niederreiter scoring even strength goals. In Boston, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to steer Bergeron away from Staal and likely will. He may also go more top-heavy pulling David Pastrnak up to the top line.
The result is that the Hurricanes will need to be solid defensively from top to bottom with other lines needing to hold their own against Boston’s best. I will especially be watching the Ian Cole / Brendan Smith pairing. I thought they struggled in game 1 but were better in game 2. If Cassidy is going to probe for holes defensively, that will be one of the places where he tries to gain and capitalize on an advantage.
2) Changes in net
Expectation is that the Bruins will go to Jeremy Swayman in game 3. Ullmark was not the whole story in the first two losses, but he was not great either. His .860 save percentage is sub-par and includes Trocheck beating him from behind the end line, Jarvis’ deflection going right through him and a couple others that maybe he could have saved. Swayman and Ullmark split duty during the regular season in a true 1A/1B tandem, and Swayman had a strong regular season. But he faded and was not nearly as good in April, so it will be interesting to see if he can quickly hop into action and refind a higher gear. On the Canes side, rookie Pyotr Kochetkov figures to just keep rolling forward. The kid seems either unaware of or unfazed by any pressure, so it seems reasonable to expect more of the same steady goaltending.
But with likely a new goalie for the Bruins and a rookie making a road playoff start for the Canes, goaltending has the potential to be a wild card that swings game 3.
3) More of the same offensively
What stands out as the difference through two games is the Canes ability to finish and score. The scoring chances are pretty even through two games, so some combination of ‘meh’ Bruins goaltending the Canes ability to put the puck in the net has been the difference All three lines have produced at even strength thus far with two goals each (not counting empty-netters) and also two goals for the power play. That balanced scoring is a great recipe for playoff success. If Boston is able to slow Aho’s line with targeted match ups, it becomes even more important for the other lines to keep producing.
4) Ability to sort out forechecking pressure
The Bruins have had some success, especially in game 1, clogging up the middle of the ice causing the Canes to give the puck away to avoid trouble exiting the defensive zone. The Hurricanes have however been pretty good at avoiding the bad kind of turnover that leads directly to a scoring chance. At home and with the ability to dictate match ups, I would expect the Bruins to double down on trying to pressure certain Canes combinations with the aim of generating offense off the forecheck. How well the Canes handle that will factor into the Bruins ability to generate more goals.
The puck drops just after 7pm on Bally Sports with Mike, Abby and Shane!