This post was written by a new contributor, Steven Psihogios.
In the most unpredictable of postseasons, the Boston Bruins have the opportunity to knock out both Eastern Conference Wild Card teams as they battle the Carolina Hurricanes on their path to the Stanley Cup.
You know them as the bunch of jerks who celebrated all of their home regular season victories in the most extravagant fashion imaginable, but really, just what are the Bruins getting themselves into with the Canes?
They’ve knocked off the reigning Cup champions and followed it up with a semi-final sweep, so what is it which makes them a challenging opponent?
As far as line matching is concerned, it should be expected that Carolina deploys something more similar to its approach against the Washington Capitals than how it matched the New York Islanders. The reason for this is New York has a much more balanced approach, where Boston and Washington feature true game-breaking top lines.
I expect the ‘Perfection Line’ to play heavy minutes against Jordan Staal’s forward line and the defensive pairing of Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk. After Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin were dominated at even strength by Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Game 5 of Round 1, Canes bench boss Rod Brind’Amour turned to Pesce and Faulk to shut down Ovechkin and Backstrom - and it worked. After combining for eight even strength points through the series’ first five games while playing the majority minutes against Hamilton and Slavin, the two totalled just two 5v5 points in Games 6 and 7 against Pesce and Faulk.
Carolina may start the series matching Hamilton and Slavin against Boston’s number one line, but I’d imagine that the leash on those two would be very short.
No team in the playoffs has a better Corsi plus-minus at 5v5 than the group from Raleigh, who currently sit at a ridiculous +128, which is +58 better than the next best St. Louis Blues.
The New York Islanders only tallied five goals against the Hurricanes in Round 2, but three of those occurred while on the power play.
On each of the 3 Islanders goals, Carolina situated themselves in some variation of a diamond formation. This makes sense as to why New York scored their goals from either the point or directly in front of the net. The objective of the diamond is to prevent teams from setting up, specifically cross-ice passes. This is why point shots and traffic in front work so well against it because you are playing at the top and bottom of the offensive zone, where there is less congestion caused by the opposing team.
The Bruins, as we have seen, can be very passive on the power play at times, which could work to Carolina’s favor. If the Hurricanes continue using the diamond in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston would benefit from setting up less and directing more shots and traffic to the net. This could make Torrey Krug a big factor in this series. His ability to move the puck along the line as well as get shots towards the net can be a huge asset for Boston’s power play in this series.
The Canes’ penalty kill operated at 75% against the Isles, who had the league’s third-worst power play in the regular season.
This is definitely the Hurricanes’ most glaring weakness.
In total this postseason, the jerks are clicking at just 10.5% on the man advantage, which includes a success rate of just 7.7% against the Islanders last round.
However, it’s not for a lack of effort. The Canes are firing pucks towards the goal. During their 38 PP opportunities, the club has mustered 99 shot attempts - the third highest number in the playoffs. Their bad luck is evident in their shooting percentage when up a man, which is just 7.55%.
The Bruins will not make life easy on the Hurricanes’ power play. The team closed out its series against the Blue Jackets a perfect 10/10 on the penalty kill. Of the team’s remaining in the playoffs, Boston’s 83.8% on the PK ranks highest.
While it seems pretty clear that the Bruins have the special teams advantage heading into this series, that hasn’t stopped the Canes from getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hurricanes’ outstanding ability to dominate the play at 5v5 will be the biggest challenge for Boston as they look to qualify for their third Stanley Cup final of the decade.