The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes are an unlikely and unusual match for the Eastern Conference Final, but as fate would have it they are the last two remaining teams out east. The Bruins didn’t have to go through the juggernaut that was Tampa Bay, while the Hurricanes stunned the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in the opening round. Most people, myself included, anticipated the Bruins playing late into the spring. No one, especially when they were 23rd overall in January, expected the Hurricanes to make the playoffs, let alone play into May.
Tonight, these two former rivals will play for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, a place the Bruins haven’t been to since 2013 and the Hurricanes since 2006. The B’s are making their first appearance in the third round since that same 2013 season, while Carolina has reached this point for the first time since 2009 when they were swept by the Penguins.
We know the top players on each side, with Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak leading the way for Boston while Sebastian Aho, Justin Williams, Teuvo Teravainen and Jaccob Slavin do the honors for the Canes. Whoever wins this series is going to need an unsung hero to step up, a secret weapon. Who is the X-Factor in this series for each side?
Boston Bruins X-Factor:
Charlie Coyle: Look, we know the B’s have a potent top-six forward group that can run with any team left in the dance. The biggest thing this late in the season is depth — if you have depth pieces that can make a difference you will usually find your way. The Bruins do have those depth pieces and have an extremely skilled and talented one in the form of Coyle. As we saw late against Toronto and early against Columbus, Coyle has all the tools to be a difference-making player. His issue? He’s consistently inconsistent.
If Charlie Coyle gets going, the Bruins will have three lines that can score and likely will be able to overwhelm the Hurricanes.
Carolina Hurricanes X-Factor:
Andrei Svechnikov: Carolina’s top-line of Warren Foegele, Aho and Williams has been terrific all playoff long and I suspect they’ll show up in this series. The second line, which features Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal and Teravainen, is a lethal trio as well. Like with Coyle and the Bruins, Carolina has a bottom-six weapon that can take advantage of mismatches and lay into softer opposition. That weapon is the second overall pick from June’s draft, Andrei Svechnikov.
Outside of Pastrnak and Aho, I think Svechnikov is the best pure goal-scorer in this series. I believe in the skill of this player and I think he is going to be an impact forward at the NHL-level when he hits his prime. He’s not there yet, but he’s shown flashes during both the regular season and playoffs. If Svechnikov gets going and starts filling the net, Carolina’s depth might just be enough to overcome Boston.