After losing 2-1 to the Washington Capitals Sunday afternoon and finishing the round-robin 0-3, the Boston Bruins will play the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins beat the Hurricanes 2-0 behind a 24-save shutout from Jaro Halak on December 3. Thanks to COVID19 pausing the NHL regular season on March 12, the Bruins (44-14-12, 100 points) and Canes (38-25-5, 81 points) were unable to play their final two scheduled games (March 31 and April 4).
The Hurricanes are coming off a three-game sweep of the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and are a much improved and more experienced squad than the one the Bruins swept in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final. Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour and his team were already planning for the potential rematch with the Bruins or against their Metro Division rivals, the Capitals, even before they knew the outcome of Sunday’s game.
“We’ve known for a little while that it was one of two teams,” Brind’Amour said Sunday morning. “They play at noon today and by the time we’re done with our practice, we’ll know who we’re playing. We’ve already prepared for both teams. This afternoon, when we get back, we’ll know who it is and we’ll take a better look at it. We know both those teams pretty well, so I don’t know if there will be a lot of preparation on getting to know the other team. It’s always about worrying about getting our group up to speed and making sure we are at our best. That’s always the focus.”
The Hurricanes have a deep blue line but they could be without former Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who did not play in the qualifying round against the Rangers.
“It’s kind of the same issue we had coming in. Number one, we don’t know for sure if he’s gonna play yet, so there is still that question lingering out there,” the Hurricanes bench boss said. “We’ll see over these next couple of days and then we’ll know more. If he’s ready to go, then he’s going to go. He’s one of our top players. Then we’ll address the who comes out question. It won’t be an easy decision, but we’ll cross that when we get to it.”
As for defenseman Brett Pesce, it’s looking more and more like he won’t suit up against the Bruins.
“He’s still a ways away,” Brind’Amour said. “When, and if, he gets into the bubble, then you’ll know he’s getting closer. Until that time, he’s still a ways away. Probably really doubtful that we’ll see him in this series. That was the plan all along anyway. We didn’t expect him to miraculously be ready this early in August. It’s more a long term plan and if we’re still playing after this series, we can start asking or answering those questions.”
After leading the Hurricanes in goals (38) and points (66), forward Sebastian Aho has picked up where he left off before the pause and is tied with forward Andrei Sevechnikov for the team lead in playoff goals with three lamplighters. Aho also leads the team in assists with five helpers and points.
Between the pipes, Peter Mrazek went 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and .990 save percentage in the first two games against the Rangers. However, Brind’Amour turned to James Reimer to complete the sweep and Reimer made 37 saves in a 4-1 win to clinch the series. There’s a very good chance the Bruins could see both in the first round.