The first four games of the Carolina Hurricanes versus Boston Bruin series were night and day depending on venue. First, the Hurricanes won twice by a combined 10-3 score in Raleigh. Then the Bruins won twice by a combined 9-4 score in Boston.
Part of that is just the wackiness of NHL playoff hockey, but part of it is also the power of control match ups with the last change on face-offs on home ice.
Below is a set of three questions that I think will play a significant role in deciding game 5 and with it also the series.
1) Does momentum exist? Can the Bruins harness it?
In general, momentum in the NHL playoffs is fleeting if not completely non-existent. Each game is a completely new event. The players and coaches have incredibly short memories and each game also presents the opportunity to make some adjustments.
So despite the Bruins having the upper hand in the past two games, the combination of the return to home ice and a fresh start would normally cancel out any carry over for the Bruins. But if some way, the Bruins are able to gain an early carry over advantage over to game 5, the Canes could be in trouble.
This especially applies to Bergeron’s line. The trio of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak combined for 16 scoring points compared to exactly zero for the Canes top scoring line of Aho, Svechnikov and Jarvis. If that differential stays anywhere near that level, the Canes will have a massive uphill battle.
2) Can the Canes get back to leveraging match ups that were successful in games 1 and 2?
And that leads directly into my second question which has to do with match ups. On home ice with the last line change on face-offs, Rod Brind’Amour was able to mark Bergeron’s line with Staal’s on the majority of their shifts. Bergeron did score twice (once on the power play) in Raleigh, but Marchand and Pastrnak (who played mostly on the second line) were held goal-less. In addition, Staal’s line put the puck in the net, so in total the Staal versus Bergeron was even or maybe even a slight advantage for the Canes. That also freed up Aho’s line to log shifts against the Bruins lower lines.
After seeing Bergeron’s line go off and take a mile when given an inch in Boston, Brind’Amour will be even more focused on matching Staal against Bergeron. So the burning question is whether Bergeron and company have officially ignited never again to be controlled regardless of match up or if instead Niederreiter/Staal/Fast can repeat what they did in games 1 and 2.
3) Can the Canes even up special teams scoring?
Per my game 4 preview, the single best weapon in the special teams battle is just not taking penalties that give a high-end power play repeated chances. The Hurricanes were horrible in that regard in game 4 taking nine penalties that played a significant role in deciding the outcome.
Also if the Hurricanes power play is going to suddenly figure it out again (The first unit was pretty good most of the year before hitting the late-season wall.), now would be a tremendous time to do so. Any kind of ugly goal combined with 0 or 1 power play goals against to be even on better would be huge.
Even in Boston, the Hurricanes were even or better at even strength. If the game is decide 5-on-5 without the Hurricanes needing to make up a special teams deficit, I like the Canes chances.
4) Will the Canes top offensive players rise up like Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak did?
Both of the games in Boston were decided by the Bruins top line being far and away the best players on the ice. Stunningly, that was even minus both of the Bruins’ top defensemen. Especially if McAvoy and Lindholm are still out of the lineup, Brind’Amour should be able to ice Aho’s line against theoretical favorable match ups. But a Bruins’ strength for years now has been the team’s ability to compete and hold their own from the top to the bottom of their lineup. Aho did not score in Boston and has yet to register an assist with an opposing goalie in net. Svechnikov has only two empty-net points at home in the series. So far the Canes are treading water tied at 2 games each anyway, but I would be surprised if the Canes emerge victorious in the series if Aho and company do not find a higher gear in 2 of the 3 remaining games.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Are you feeling a good kind or a bad kind of nervous heading into a ‘pivotal’ game 5?
2) Do you think Staal’s line will be able to pick up where it left off in games 1 and 2 neutralizing Bergeron’s line again in game 5?
3) Is it time for Aho and Svechnikov to rise up and shine?
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.
Three game series. First team to blink loses.
This game is all about the matchups. Can the Staal line contain or equal the Bergeron line? They did it in games 1 & 2, but Marchand, who had been struggling, found his groove. That’s scary.
I expect Aho to wake up tonight matched up against lesser defenders. Will Svechnikov? He seems to be struggling to hit the net. He’s been physical, but not much of a threat to score.
Fourth line. Who plays tonight? Necas, Kotkaniemi, and Domi have been all but invisible. Does Lorentz draw in tonight? Seems like a good idea. Let him feed off the crowd and help the fourth line at least keep possession in the offensive zone.
Is Skjei hurt? He missed practice yesterday and was not good Sunday. Need him to step back up.