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Preview: Bruins kick off the Eastern Conference Final against Carolina

No McAvoy, no problem?

NHL: Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins will defend home ice for the first time on Thursday evening when the team plays host to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes, who claimed the Eastern Conference’s first wild card spot, defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in seven games. The Canes then swept the New York Islanders and earned themselves a short rest to try and get everyone healthy. The success has driven the southern market crazy about playoff hockey and has turned PNC Arena into one of the loudest in the league.

The Hurricanes have been incredibly dangerous this postseason due to their next man up approach. Injuries to starting goaltender Petr Mrazek couldn’t halt the teams momentum, as backup Curtis McElhinney has been rock solid. Unheralded names have played pivotal roles for the Hurricanes. Brock McGinn scored the series-winning goal in Washington, while Warren Foegele scored some huge goals as well. Up and down their roster, everyone has contributed. The strength of their depth could give the Bruins some trouble.

The Bruins have been on a roller coaster ride through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Albeit disposing of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Bruins have irked the opposition and their fanbases multiple times. From Brad Marchand’s antics to Charlie McAvoy’s hit, much of the narrative surrounding the Bruins this postseason has had to do with individual isolated incidents rather than a breakdown of how the team is performing. Many have been irrationally irate online towards the Bruins or certain members of the team for little to no reason at all. To defeat a quality opponent such as the Hurricanes, the Bruins will need to tune out the distractions and focus on the job at hand.

Charlie McAvoy has been suspended for the first game of the series for a hit to head of Columbus’ Josh Anderson in game six of the second round series. Although initially making contact with Anderson’s chest, McAvoy crushed Anderson’s jaw and makes significant contact to the head. McAvoy has been the Bruins best defender in the playoffs, using his skills to create space and neutralize top opposition with his skating. It is expected that Steven Kampher will Enter the lineup tonight in his absence.

If the Bruins are to be successful, the team needs to support Tuukka Rask. Rask has stood on his head, bailing out the Bruins time and time again when play becomes sloppy. Rask owns a 2.02 goals against average and a remarkable .938 save percentage through the first two series. A hot goaltender can be the easiest ticket to postseason success (Tim Thomas 2011 flashbacks anyone?), but the Bruins need to buoy Rask’s efforts by ensuring that he faces shots from non high-danger areas.

The puck drops tonight at the Garden at 8 o’clock.