After consecutive Canes wins in Raleigh to start the first round playoff series between the Hurricanes and Bruins, the Bruins struck back in game 3 playing on home ice in Boston.
Was that just a minor bump in the road for the Hurricanes? Or will it prove to be a turning point in the series?
Sunday’s game 4 could have a lot to say about that. If the Hurricanes rebound with a win, they will have captured what was needed to have control of the series needing to win only one of the final three games to advance. But with a loss, the Bruins will pull even at 2-2 and have momentum heading into a suddenly shortened three-game series.
As far as hockey parlance goes, I think that is the definition of ‘pivotal.’
Against that backdrop, here are my watch points for game 4:
1) Battle of the best
In the 2019 playoff series loss to the Bruins, the single biggest deciding factor was that the Bruins top line Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak were the best and most productive players on the ice both at even strength and on special teams. They outplayed the Canes top line led by Sebastian Aho, and that was enough to tilt the series in Boston’s favor. The formula reappeared in a game 3 Bruins win that saw the trio reunited after mostly being separated with Pastrnak on the second line. On Friday, the trio combined for six points and were the best on the ice again. In the two wins in Raleigh, Bergeron’s line was mostly stymied and outplayed by Staal’s line, and Aho had a big game with two goals in game 2.
After a quiet game on Friday, I will be watching to see if Aho’s line can rise up and play even or better against Bergeron and company who will mostly be matched up with them again.
2) Special teams
The three-goal differential on special teams was the goal-scoring difference on Friday. At even strength, the Hurricanes outscored the Bruins 2-1, two power play and one shorthanded goal against pushed the Bruins to a 4-2 victory. As good as the Canes penalty kill has been this season, best and simplest is to simply stay out of the penalty box and then ideally score if given the chance on a power play. Regardless of how the score sheet stacks up penalty-wise, the Hurricanes need to right the ship on special teams and play even or better.
3) Seeking a hero
In the NHL playoffs, big games are often decided by a hero rising up. Most common is for that hero to be a star or team leader, but there are also cases where a role player like a Brock McGinn or Warren Foegele rise up. If forced to name a player to watch in this regard, I like the possibility of Svechnikov breaking out. He has been engaged physically but has only empty-net scoring points to his credit so far in the series. That will not cut it if the Canes hope to play deep into the playoffs. Could Sunday be a break out day for Svechnikov? Or if not, will another young gun rise to the occasion in a big game?
The puck drops at 12:30pm on Bally Sports with Mike, Abby and Shane. Here is hoping that your mother is a Canes hockey fan!