It’s not going to take the Carolina Hurricanes long to seek out playoff revenge.
A rematch of last year’s conference final, the Bruins and Hurricanes find themselves in a Round 1 matchup in this unique season thanks to an upset to the Pittsburgh Penguins and a winless round-robin for the Bruins. Now the Hurricanes are arriving with some momentum, while the Bruins will be searching for another gear.
Boston swept this series last year after Carolina got past the Washington Capitals in seven games and the New York Islanders in four, ending their surprise run. But no one will be surprised by them this season. The Hurricanes are a complete, well-rounded team and a slow start for Boston could be devastating.
Here’s a look at this first-round series.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Carolina: 54.30 CF% (3rd), 50.90 GF% (12th), 91.22 SV% (26th), 8.11 SH% (17th), 0.993 PDO (24th)
Boston: 50.85 CF% (12th), 57.32 GF% (2nd), 93.38 SV% (1st), 8.31 SH% (15th), 1.017 PDO (3rd)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Carolina: 22.3 PP% (8th), 84.0 PK% (4th), 217 GF (15th), 193 GA (9th)
Boston: 25.2 PP% (2nd), 84.3 PK% (3rd), 227 GF (8th), 167 GA (1st)
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
The story of the qualifying round:
The first team on the ice for the NHL’s return-to-play on Aug. 1 became the first to advance out of the qualifying round just three days later, making quick work of the New York Rangers with a swift, three-game sweep of their Metropolitan opponent.
When we talk about Carolina, we talk about their deep, smooth-skating blue line (as we should — it’s amazing, even without the injured Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce), but the talk of these playoffs so far has been the performance of forwards Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. The young duo, which makes up two-thirds of Carolina’s top line along with Teuvo Teravainen, put on a show against the Rangers, landing themselves on the scoreboard in all three games and combining for 13 points.
Aho’s three goals and five assists (and back-to-back-to-back multi-point games) had him leading the NHL through three games’ worth of action league-wide, while Svechnikov’s physical play and sensational goal-scoring display — including a historic hat trick in Game 2 — makes him a constant threat whenever he’s on the ice.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 3, 2020
Of course, they’re not the only dynamic duo propelling this team forward: goaltenders Petr Mrazek and James Reimer held the Rangers to just four goals between them, effectively shutting down snipers Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin and sending a message to the rest of the league.
In the meantime, bubble life has not been kind to the Bruins. After falling flat in their one and only exhibition game, the best team in the Eastern Conference quickly frittered away what should’ve been a No. 1 seed heading into the first round, losing all three round-robin games with efforts that didn’t exactly inspire much confidence.
The team’s biggest strengths quickly became their biggest question marks upon their arrival in Toronto: The high-scoring trio of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand tallied just a single point between them in the round-robin, while the formidable goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak hasn’t looked as sharp as it normally does, either.
So, what does their slow start mean? Potentially, nothing. With training camp interrupted by a rotating cast of players deemed unfit and Rask sidelined to start the tournament, it’s very possible it’s just a matter of shaking off that rust. And their regular-season finish allowed them the luxury of wading into the competition and not diving right into an elimination situation.
Their performance throughout the regular season speaks louder than a three-game sample size, and we know what this team is capable of in high-stakes situations from post-seasons past. But the lack of momentum going into Round 1 is most certainly a concern.
Carolina Hurricanes X-Factor: The goalies
While Aho and Svechnikov have opponents seeing double and Jaccob Slavin & Co. have the blue line on lockdown, it’s the men in the blue paint that make the Hurricanes a truly complete contender. Starter Mrazek let in just three goals on 50 shots sent his way by the Rangers through Games 1 and 2, and backup Reimer let just one past him while facing 38 shots to clinch the series in Game 3 — in his old barn, no less. Year after year, we’ve seen how hot goaltenders can backstop a club through an incredible post-season run, and the performance of these two so far could prove to be the difference-maker going forward.
Boston Bruins X-Factor: David Pastrnak
After missing all but one day of training camp while serving a mandatory quarantine in Boston, Pastrnak has not looked like the player we saw throughout 2019-20. We know what the winger is capable of: his 48 goals through 70 regular-season games landed him atop the league in that category and led him to tally a personal-best 95 points. Held off the score sheet through the round-robin, it feels like only a matter of time before he heats up. Whether he can rediscover that scoring touch in Round 1 will be the biggest question facing the Bruins.