After a quick four-game sweep of the New York Islanders in the second round and a five-day break, the Carolina Hurricanes return to action in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins.
With the team and hockey community moving into the NHL spotlight, check out also our Carolina Hurricanes fans’ guide to the NHL’s center stage and the coverage that comes with it.
Significant for game 1 of the series in Boston on Thursday night are two things. First, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy is rightly suspended for the first game because of a high hit in game 6 versus Columbus. Second, though the Hurricanes should be better for it in the long run, the five days off does present a significant restart challenge for the team.
Arguably, the Bruins greatest strength is its defensive play. The forwards as a group are strong two-way players who compete in all three zones. Tuukka Rask had a respectable even if not dominant 2018-19 regular season and is now playing at a higher level in the playoffs thus far. A significant part of the Bruins finishing third in the NHL in goals scored is a group effort, but McAvoy’s loss for game 1 is still meaningful. The Bruins are not as deep on the blue line as the Hurricanes, so the question will be whether Zdeno Chara can carry a lesser defenseman for a game or if there is an opening there for the Hurricanes to prey on weakness.
On the Hurricanes side, the five-day layoff could also be impactful. During the regular season, the Hurricanes did not generally play well with three or more days rest. During the regular season, the Hurricanes were an abysmal 2-6 follow three or more days off (not counting the All-Star break/bye week layoff). The Hurricanes promptly lost game 1 against the Capitals after another layoff. In the long run, I think the layoff to recuperate and recharge will be a positive, but the question is whether the Hurricanes will pay a one-game restart penalty for that benefit.
My watch points for game 1 follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) The restart — rested or rusty?
As noted above, the Hurricanes face a challenge trying to dial up the intensity and maybe even more significantly maintaining sharpness after five days off. On Thursday, I will be watching early for signs that the Hurricanes look rested, recharged and ready to compete a high level. Part of that is the pace, but the bigger challenge could be crispness in terms of moving the puck effectively under pressure and pace.
2) The Hurricanes forecheck
I have been a broken record through three series saying that the ignition and fuel for the Canes engine is the forecheck. As goes the effectiveness of the forecheck, so goes the team in total. When the forecheck is firing on all cylinders, the Hurricanes play much less defense in their own end, and a decent volume of medium to good scoring chances, many in transition, are spread throughout the lineup and usually yield fruit. With power play sputtering more than not and the team’s top scorers contributing but not surging in the playoffs, the Hurricanes could quickly become scoring-challenged if the forecheck does not continue to be the catalyst in this series. So on Thursday night, I will be looking to get an early read on how effective the Hurricanes forecheck is against the Bruins especially with a third pairing defenseman slotted into McAvoy’s place in the lineup.
3) Special teams
At least on paper and based on playoff trends, this series sets up a bit like the Washington Capitals series in that the Hurricanes seeem to be better-served playing fast-paced 5-on-5 hockey instead of trading power play chances. In game 1, I will be watching multiple things in that regard. First, in terms of tone, physicality and officiating, does this series look like it is likely to be one full of aggression type penalties that bring special teams to the forefront? Second, with multiple days to regroup and practice, does the Hurricanes power play look better?
4) The early tone
Also like the Capitals series, the Bruins bring a physical brand of hockey. The series has the potential to be a dangerous one for players who like to play with the puck on their sticks in the middle of the rink and also one where defensemen need to keep their heads up and often pay a price to win and move pucks on the back walls. In game 1, I will be watching to see if the level of physicality that I expect rears up early in the series and also if the Hurricanes can match the Bruins in this regard.
The puck drops at 8pm on NBCSN. Time to chase win #9 out of 16!