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Tale Of Tape For Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes

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Boston Bruins

If we all go by the regular season meetings between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, then this series is going to be over pretty quickly. But as has been discussed several times in the last few days, the Bruins and Hurricanes haven’t played each other since mid-February and things are different now for both hockey clubs.

Certainly, they’re different for the Black and Gold, gelled in the second half of the season and added a big-time piece in top pair defenseman Hampus Lindholm at the NHL trade deadline. He’s a game-changer on the back end for the Boston Bruins and changes just how adeptly the B’s will be able to handle Carolina’s high-pressure attack.

That’s something the Boston Bruins are well prepared for after being outscored by a 16-1margin by Carolina in the three meetings during the regular season.

“I think it’s their aggressiveness,” said Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron on what sets Carolina apart. “They’re on the puck. They play tight defense and they’re a fast team. They’re very aggressive. Offensively, they have great players. A lot of skills. But at the same time, they take care of their defense as well. They have good back pressure. It’s a great team that we’re facing.”

With Game 1 set for Monday night at the PNC Center, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two clubs and a series prediction:

Forwards: Carolina has high-end skill with 30-goal scorers Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov and good secondary scoring with Nino Neiderreiter, Vinny Trocheck and Teuvo Teravainen, and experienced, gritty two-way players in Jordan Staal and Derek Stepan. There were 10 Carolina players overall with double-digit goals this season and some young complementary players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jesper Fast that could be real X-factors in the postseason. The Bruins have the higher level elite talent with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron still deadly on the top line, and David Pastrnak popping 40 goals teamed with Taylor Hall on the second line this season. This may come down to which team wins the battle of third and fourth lines, and that may give the edge to a Hurricanes team that’s got a lot of depth up front. Edge: Hurricanes.

Defensemen: There’s no doubt that the Carolina defense is stout based on their top ranking in the league this season with 2.44 goals allowed per game. Jaccob Slavin (42 points and a plus-35) is a strong, two-way D-man that’s perhaps still a little underrated around the league, and Tony DeAngelo has bounced back with a strong season where he’s kept things quiet. Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce, Ian Cole and Ethan Bear round out a strong group. But the Boston Bruins have the best defenseman in the series in Charlie McAvoy and they might now have the second-best defenseman with Lindholm as well. There’s a drop-off afterward in Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton/Mike Reilly, but McAvoy and Lindholm have the ability to control half the game on the back end. Without Lindholm, there’s a good chance that Carolina could have overwhelmed Boston with speed and aggressiveness as they did earlier in the season. But that shouldn’t be the case now with the silky smooth Lindholm. That’s a huge weapon in a playoff series for a team that finished fourth in the NHL with 2.66 goals allowed per game. Edge: Bruins with a slight one.

Goaltending: This has the makings of a difference-making category in the series. On the one side, Carolina is forced to go with Antti Raanta because stalwart netminder Freddie Andersen is still out with an injury. Andersen, in case you missed it, was 3-0-0 with a .990 save percentage against the Boston Bruins this season and has shown the ability to steal playoff games in the past when he’s healthy and fresh. On the other side, Linus Ullmark gets the Game 1 start after a strong April kick to the regular season and could split some time with Jeremy Swayman. There is essentially zero playoff experience between the two young goalies, so it’s difficult to say how either one of them would react in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If Andersen comes back, the edge goes to Carolina but that isn’t how the series is going to start the Boston Bruins should take advantage. Edge: Even.

Special Teams: The Hurricanes and Boston Bruins finished 13th and 15th respectively in the NHL on the power play this season, though the Bruins had a rough month of April where they went nearly an entire monthlong period without a power play goal. On the other end, the Hurricanes had the best penalty kill in the NHL while killing 88 percent of the power plays that they faced during the regular season. The Boston Bruins finished ninth with 81.3 penalty kill percentage and were pretty strong in that area all season as well. This isn’t a wide margin between the two teams, but it’s worth noting that the Boston Bruins power play has not been consistently functioning as well this season as it has in the past. In fact, the Bruins have reversed their 5-on-5 and special teams numbers over the course of this season. Edge: Hurricanes.

Intangibles/Coaching: The Carolina Hurricanes are a hockey team with a core group that’s been together for a while, and their time is now after getting eliminated in the first few rounds over the last few seasons. The Boston Bruins are an aging group trying to squeeze as much as they can out of a team with a Stanley Cup window that’s closing while reloading as players like David Krejci, Torey Krug and Tuukka Rask exit the Black and Gold fold. The experience edge definitely goes to the Bruins, who lineup behind one of the best leaders in pro sports with Patrice Bergeron as captain. Bruce Cassidy is an experienced, successful head coach that’s been to a Stanley Cup Final while Rod Brind’Amour has the Carolina Hurricanes playing to his personality of fast, intense and fully willing to outwork their opponent if they’ll let him. Both teams are extremely well-coached, though it should be noted that Brind’Amour hasn’t been able to push the Hurricanes to that next level as of yet. Edge: Bruins.

Prediction: I’m going with the Boston Bruins in six games provided Andersen is out. James Murphy predicts the Carolina Hurricanes in five games. In the end, Boston’s best players rise to the occasion for one last playoff hurrah even if it becomes a short-term victory before a defeat deeper into the playoff run.

 

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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