Eastern Conference Final Preview: Hurricanes vs. Bruins

Justin Williams spoke about the Hurricanes' approach in the playoffs after beating defending Stanley Cup Champions and sweeping the Islanders.

It’s the Hartford Whalers Carolina Hurricanes against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.

After all the upsets around the NHL that got us here, maybe we should have seen this one coming. Though Tampa Bay was the favourite in the Atlantic following a 62-win regular season, Boston was still in the contender category. And once the Lightning were out of the way Boston’s prospects looked a whole lot better.

Though Carolina hadn’t reached the playoffs in a decade, every time they do qualify the team goes on a run. The last three times they got into the Stanley Cup Playoffs (2002, 2006, 2009), the Canes reached at least the conference final, and twice got to the Stanley Cup Final. More than that, their 62 regular-season points from Jan. 1 to the end were the third-most in the NHL — just ahead of Boston’s 61.

So, in hindsight, maybe this matchup should be less surprising than it is. But here we are, with busted brackets crumpled into the trash.

Enter now for your chance to win big! $50,000 in cash prizes up for grabs. Grand prize includes: A new 2019 Ram Power Wagon.

ADVANCED STATS

Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)

Carolina: 54.80 CF% (2nd), 51.95 GF% (12th), 92.07 SV% (14th), 7.17 SH% (28th), .992 PDO (25th)

Boston: 53.07 CF% (6th), 55.12 GF% (4th), .931 SV% (3rd), 7.34 SH% (26th), 1.005 PDO (10th)

REGULAR-SEASON TEAM STATS

Carolina: 17.8 PP% (20th), 81.6 PK% (8th), 243 GF (16th), 221 GA (8th)

Boston: 25.9 PP% (3rd), 79.9 PK% (16th), 257 GF (11th), 212 GA (3rd)

PLAYOFF TEAM STATS

Carolina: 10.5 PP% (14th), 75.0 PK% (12th), 3.09 GF/G (2nd), 2.27 GA/G (2nd)

Boston: 28.6 PP% (1st), 83.8 PK% (6th), 3.08 GF/G (3rd), 2.15 GA/G (1st)

HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD

Carolina: 1-1-1

Boston: 2-1-0

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Carolina: The Hurricanes started off by eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions in a series that, by the numbers, maybe went on longer than it should have. The Canes controlled 59.4 per cent of the 5-on-5 shots against Washington — the highest of Round 1 — and 56.2 per cent of the scoring chances. They also won four of the last five games in the series, so, while it took a double-overtime Game 7 goal by Brock McGinn to advance, the Hurricanes were easily the better team.

In Round 2 their control of the shot share wasn’t so cavernous, but the Canes were still the dominant team. A couple of low-scoring, one-goal wins were followed by two decisive 5-2 wins at home to sweep aside the Islanders.

There are two obvious reasons why this year’s Canes stand out from previous iterations that fell well short of hopes and expectations. Their offence was 16th on the season, but top 10 from Jan. 1 on. And that’s kept up in the playoffs where Carolina averages more than three goals a game, led by their bigger forward names (Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho), some lesser-knowns (Warren Foegele) and an engaged defence (Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton).

But the back bone is goaltending, which improved drastically in a season few expected it would. Curtis McElhinney started the season strong, but Petr Mrazek picked it up in the later stages and carried his run into the playoffs. When he got hurt against the Islanders, McElhinney stepped back in and put up a .947 save percentage in three games.

Boston: The only time the Bruins led their series against Toronto was when the clock hit 0 in Game 7 and Boston moved on. The Leafs’ nightmare was realized as Boston outscored them 9-3 in Games 6 and 7 to overcome a 3-2 series deficit.

In Round 2, the Bruins avoided the Lightning but met a Blue Jackets team that pushed all-in at the trade deadline and eliminated the Presidents’ Trophy winners. While Round 1 was all about pace and not as physical, the Bruins had to adapt to Columbus’ tougher approach — which is more in line with Boston’s preference anyway.

This time, it’s back to trying to shut down a hot offence that comes at you from all angles, in different ways.

Fourth-liner Sean Kuraly scored the goal that put Game 7 out of reach for Toronto and has been a driver on the fourth line. The third line, newly formed with the trade-deadline pick ups of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, has also come together for goals in elimination games. Whenever David Krejci performs in the playoffs, the Bruins succeed, so that he has 10 points in 13 games is a good sign. The Perfection Line is in a groove, and was in on six of the eight goals in Games 4 and 5 of Round 2 when the Bruins took control of the series.

With four lines capable of scoring, playing strong defence and creating energy, Carolina’s defence will be challenged like it hasn’t been yet in these playoffs.

Hurricanes’ X-Factor: Andrei Svechnikov

There are more important offensive contributors on this team — such as Aho, who would land in the mainstream as a star with a strong series. But on the third line the Hurricanes have a potential weapon in Andrei Svechnikov that the Bruins don’t have an answer to.

Svechnikov was the second-overall draft pick last summer, scoring just shy of a goal per game pace for the OHL’s Barrie Colts. The Bruins have no one that deep in their lineup who has the same pedigree. He got better as the season went along, gradually earning more ice time from Rod Brind’Amour, and finishing with six goals and nine points in his final 19 games. But in the short burst, small sample that is a best-of-seven series, the 19-year-old’s potential to be a game-breaker is tantalizing.

His first two playoff goals in Game 1 against Washington both came in the third period and clawed back a 3-0 deficit to 3-2. He assisted on the tying goal in Game 2 of that series, which sent the game to overtime, and he was one of Carolina’s best players to that point. But, after a Game 3 fight with Alex Ovechkin sidelined Svechnikov for the rest of that series, he returned in Round 2 with less ice time as he got his legs back under him. He still scored the nail-in-the-coffin goal in Game 4 to eliminate New York.

This late in the playoffs, players are being ground down, so any rest is advantageous. The fact Svechnikov has shown tremendous confidence already while also not playing the full slate because of the injury means he may be fresher than some Bruins he’ll be matched up against. If the Bruins happen to win the battle in the top six, it’s great for Carolina to have this ace up its sleeve.

Bruins’ X-Factor: The third line

Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron will have to live up to their “Perfection Line” moniker, and we’d expect that to happen. Krejci, coming off the best offensive season of his career, is continuing that production in the playoffs, helping along linemates Jake DeBrusk and David Backes.

But depth wins in the playoffs, and Bruins GM Don Sweeney rebuilt his third line at the trade deadline with Johansson and Coyle. They haven’t always produced consistently, but in the most critical moments they’ve come through.

Take Game 7 against Toronto, for instance. Nobody on the top-two lines scored until Bergeron buried an empty netter with one second left. It was Johansson who scored the 2-0 goal in the first period, and Coyle who made it 4-1 late in the third to basically clinch the series.

In Game 1 against Columbus, Coyle scored late in regulation to send it to overtime and then potted the winner, with Johansson getting the primary assist on both. And in Game 6 against the Blue Jackets, Johansson scored the insurance goal halfway through the third, assisted by Coyle, that the Bruins never looked back from.

KEY INJURIES

Carolina:
Petr Mrazek, groin (day-to-day)
Micheal Ferland, upper body (day-to-day)
Trevor van Riemsdyk shoulder (out)

Boston:
Charlie McAvoy, suspension (one game)
Kevan Miller, lower body (out)
Noel Acciari, undisclosed (out)

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.