Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins was easily one of the best of the season. If you have been away from Canes hockey or just Canes and Coffee for the past day or so, timing is great to revel in the win in the game recap and contemplate if this game could prove to be bigger than two points in Friday’s Daily Cup of Joe.
But just as quickly as a couple wins propelled the Hurricanes up the standings, a couple losses could see it all disappear quickly. And the road ahead short-term is a challenging one with three consecutive road games against top teams in the Eastern Conference. The combined record of the next three opponents (Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington) over their past three games is an impressive 21-4-5.
In the ‘what have you done for me lately’ NHL playoff chase, important for the Hurricanes is to carry over as much as possible from Thursday’s win and simply focus on the next game against the Boston Bruins.
Against that backdrop, here are my watch points for Saturday’s tilt against the Bruins.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) Carry over from Thursday
Thursday’s win was an incredibly good one with no significant flaws. The key for the Hurricanes is not to pause, exhale and let up but rather to use the win as fuel to push just as hard or harder on Saturday night in Boston. It is up to Justin Williams and the team’s captains to rattle the sword a little bit to make sure that everyone recognizes that Thursday’s level of play is something that is earned not just granted.
More tactically, I will be watching for two key elements:
—The forecheck: In both of the past two games, the Hurricanes’ forecheck has been phenomenal and the primary source of offense across all four lines. As I noted in Thursday’s game recap, that is a tremendous ingredient for consistent offense since it can span the entire lineup and create scoring chances for many different players. Can the Hurricanes continue at the current level?
—Sound defensive play and puck management: The Capitals game was largely a mess in terms of puck management and defensive play that was saved (for a single point anyway) by the fact that the Capitals defensemen were at least as bad managing the puck if not worse. Thursday was the opposite with sounder play in all aspects of the game.
2) Battling some of the best in Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak
The trio might be overshadowed a bit by a few lines like the Tampa Bay juggernaut, but for those who follow the NHL closely and below the scoring headlines, the combination of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pasternak has been right up with the top lines in the NHL especially recently.
The challenge for the Hurricanes is that playing away from home they will not be able to dictate match ups against Boston’s top line. Rather, the Canes will need to be sound throughout their lineup.
Best bet is that Peters will use Aho/Rask/Teravainen and McGinn/Rask/Williams as a 1-2 which could see Rask’s line doing the heavy lifting if Boston steers around Staal’s line.
In addition, the game represents an another opportunity for the TSA line to simply be better than the other team’s best line whether they are playing against them or not.
3) The blue line
The defense was sound and solid in Thursday night’s win but has been up and down a bit of late despite the team’s success. If the Canes can defend and avoid costly mistakes at a level even close to Thursday’s game, they will be in nearly every game which is a recipe for collecting the points and wins necessary to maintain their current playoff position. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if the defensemen can follow up Thursday’s effort with something similar on Saturday.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.