After an impressive three-game sweep of the New York Rangers in the qualifying round of the 2020 NHL Playoffs, the Hurricanes had to wait to see who they would play next. Would it be a heated rematch against the Capitals? Or would it be a chance for revenge against the Bruins. With the Bruins third consecutive loss in round robin play, the Hurricanes were paired with the Boston Bruins.
I have already written a bit about the match up:
–For Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe I asked which Bruins team the Hurricanes should expect between the 2019 playoff team that swept the Canes, the 2019-20 regular season Bruins that was the NHL’s best in the standings or the 2020 round robin Bruins that has struggled to re-find the ignition switch. You can find that article HERE.
–I also did a reasonably deep dive on the primary story lines from the 2019 playoff meeting and the possible carry forwards from that series. That is HERE.
My watch points for the series opener on Tuesday follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
I think the most intriguing thing to watch in the first game of the series is the readiness of both teams. Though other factors certainly played a role too, the Hurricanes seemed to fail to restart for the Bruins series in the 2019 playoffs after a long layoff. The Hurricanes will be playing a full week since finishing off the Rangers last Tuesday.
But more significant is the Bruins side of the ledger. The Bruins were lackluster in going 0-3 in the round robin. In a press conference on Monday, Brad Marchand bristled about the games more or less being preseason games. But those games featured regular NHL lineups and had still significant home (not ice) advantage that nets last change on all face-offs on the line. Marchand seemed to imply that it was just a matter of flipping the switch to ‘playoffs’, but it often does not work like that. Could the Bruins continue to struggle to find a playoff gear. Even just a couple games of that and an early lead for the Canes could decide the series. So on Tuesday, my biggest watch point out of the gate is trying assess whether the Bruins are able to find a higher gear.
2) The forecheck…or playing without the forecheck
The single biggest difference between the Bruins and the Capitals and Islanders last spring was the Bruins seeming immunity to the Hurricanes forechecking pressure. A combination of a solid and balanced blue and a system and forwards who understood how to support the puck to relieve pressure neutralized the Hurricanes forecheck. The result was elimination of the forecheck-driven offense from the earlier rounds and a greater need for the Hurricanes blue line to defend under pressure. I actually think the Hurricanes will likely need some combination of being more effective with the forecheck but also being more effective when it is not serving as a catalyst too. Regardless, I will be watching Tuesday to see if the Bruins muster the same forecheck immunity that helped them win last spring.
3) Special teams
The 2019 playoff series saw the Bruins outscore the Hurricanes by six goals in four games. That is incredibly difficult to overcome. In the Hurricanes first round series win, one of very few problems was the team’s propensity to pile up penalties. If the Hurricanes continue to struggle in that regard, that could be just the catalyst that Bruins need to get going. I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can tighten up a bit in terms of taking penalties and hold their own on special teams.
4) Best against best
In a series against a Rangers team that had some high-end offensive fire power, Sebastian Aho’s line was by far the best in the series. I said before the playoffs started that the next level for Aho would include being more of a deciding factor in the playoffs even against teams that have bona fide first scoring lines. This series represents a chance for Aho and his line to take that step. I will be watching Tuesday to see if Aho’s line can carry momentum from its phenomenal first round and better Bergeron and company.
The puck drops at 8pm on Fox Sports Carolinas!