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Know your enemy: 5 questions with Canes Country

Let’s go behind enemy lines!

Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals - Game Seven Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It’s always nice to hear what the other side has to say! These answers come from Brian LeBlanc over at Canes Country. Check out their site for a Raleigh perspective.

What’s something about this Carolina team that you think might surprise Bruins fans?

It’s kind of strange to type this given that we’ve reached the Conference Final, but a lot of people outside this market just don’t have any idea how much of a difference Rod Brind’Amour has made behind the bench. There was a vocal group of people, both inside and outside the Carolina fanbase, that sort of rolled their eyes at Brind’Amour taking the reins for the clearly ineffective Bill Peters. Promoting the assistant to an underachieving head coach will do that to you, and while no one doubts Brind’Amour’s motivational skills, the man had never coached a team at any level before taking over the Hurricanes.

But the fact of the matter is, Brind’Amour clearly outcoached Todd Rierden in the first round, and held his own - at a minimum - with Barry Trotz in the second. His personnel deployment has been spot on. He puts players in the spots that give them the best chance to succeed, and his players will very much skate through a brick wall for him. It’s understandable that he wasn’t a finalist for the Jack Adams, given the competition, but just like in his entire playing career, he’s flown under the radar and is as much the reason the Canes are in this spot as any. Underestimating him never ends well.

Many Bruins fans (fairly or unfairly) have a negative perception of Dougie Hamilton - how has he been for Carolina?

Ah, the Dougie question we all knew was coming. Honestly, he’s an absolutely perfect fit with the Hurricanes. He’s perfectly content to stay just out of the spotlight, and on a team with Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and a resurrected Justin Faulk, he’s allowed to do that. Is he quiet? Yeah, he is. But he’s fiercely protective of his teammates, and there’s no better example of that than the uber-troll he pulled when he patted Brock Nelson on the head in the handshake line after Nelson did likewise after scoring on Curtis McElhinney in Game 3 of the Islanders series.

In a way he’s refreshing to talk to, because by not saying much he avoids the cliche-ridden soundbites that pepper the quotes of 90% of the other players in the league. On a team that makes sure it constantly toes the line of irreverence, Dougie might embody that line more than anyone. He’s never going to win any popularity contests among Serious Hockey Men, but then again the Hurricanes writ large aren’t exactly winning them either. He’s formed an effective partnership with Slavin, and he has a real connection with Hurricanes fans, most of whom are used to being the black sheep of the NHL anyway. This is the type of market where he can do his thing and no one will bat an eyelash, and it’s allowed him to become a real force when he’s on his game.

What do you see as being Carolina’s biggest strength? Biggest weakness?

The Hurricanes’ biggest strength is their defending, which was outstanding during the Islanders series and did an effective, if a bit harried at times, job against the Capitals’ big names in round one. Petr Mrazek stole Game 1 against the Islanders, and while the Bruins present a tougher challenge than the Islanders offensively, the Hurricanes know what they need to do to be effective.

What you’ll notice about the Hurricanes defense is just how positionally sound they are. They aren’t forcing turnovers by plastering guys into the boards. It’s much more subtle, with lots of stick work and nudges at critical moments. There will be more than one time during this series where you look at an offensive rush break down and you’ll wonder how they did it and made it look so effortless.

By far, the Hurricanes’ biggest weakness is the power play, which has been abhorrent the entire postseason. Truly, it’s a surprise they’ve gotten this far while getting absolutely nothing going while up a man. Brind’Amour has made some tweaks, including moving Teuvo Teravainen to the point and Sebastian Aho to the half-wall, but they have yet to find their footing. A key to this series is going to be which power play outscores the other. If the Hurricanes can keep that margin to a minimum, they’ll be in decent shape even without a ton of production. But if the Bruins have a big advantage on the power play - think a 5-6 goal differential - that could be too much for the Hurricanes to overcome.

If there’s one thing that concerns you heading into this series, what would it be?

The power play. See above. It’s one thing to play the Islanders, who had a similarly popgun power play that the Hurricanes neutralized fairly easily. The Bruins are another story, and the Hurricanes can’t afford to be indecisive the way they’ve been so often this season. The power play nearly cost them the Washington series, and it can be argued it was only the resurgent penalty kill that held them in it by the skin of their teeth. The Hurricanes are going to take penalties, and they simply must match the Bruins’ power play production to have any chance.

Most Bruins fans will be familiar with names like Aho and Staal. Which lesser-known Hurricane will we be familiar with by the time this series ends?

Warren Foegele has cooled down a bit from his star turn during the first round, but he’s a crucial part of the Hurricanes’ depth scoring. I know that Bruins fans have a long memory of Scott Walker’s exploits in 2009, and I think you’ll see a lot of Walker in Foegele’s game. He won’t sucker-punch an opposing defenseman necessarily, but he tends to pop up at critical times and he’s not afraid to throw the body around; he was Public Enemy No. 1 in Washington after a hard, but clean, check knocked T.J. Oshie out with a broken collarbone.

The superheated reaction from Capitals fans following that hit got to him a bit mentally, but he’s quietly had points in the Hurricanes’ last three games and he’s not scared of going to the gritty areas of the ice. When he’s on the ice, people tend to notice. Right now he’s on a sandpaper line with Lucas Wallmark and Brock McGinn, and that trio is going to be exceptional at eating up the clock and creating havoc in front of the Bruins net.

You probably don’t know much about Foegele now, but it won’t take long at all for that to change.