As Game 1 draws terrifyingly closer, both teams are coming into this ready for a war. Most models seem to indicate this a series set to go 7, but if the Bruins can answer three major questions going into tonight’s contest, then they can tilt this series in their favor. It will be a struggle. I freely admit I’m not expecting a short series, but it can be done.
Now, onto the questions.
Can you attack the slot?
The Hurricanes are a tough team to play against in the more abstract way when it comes to defense. Can they hit you? oh sure. But they’re better when they’re frustrating you. Denying you shooting lanes, active stickwork to break up passes, that sort of thing. But here’s a secret about their defense.
If you can get close to their net....you can get shots off.
They are unquestionably very good at the age old tried and true defensive method of getting shots out to the perimeter, but every defensive structure has it’s flaws, and the Canes are no different. If they want to start this series on the right foot, The Bruins need to attack the net as much as possible in whatever way possible.
Nobody’s looking for highlight reel goals here. Especially since...
Are you gonna score on the power play now?
The Canes are this years winner of the “Best Penalty Kill” prize, with an 88% even kill rate. The Bruins are gonna have their hands full no matter what they look like on their first man-advantage of the series, but they have to look like they want to score and fast.
Over the last few weeks, the Bruins were wildly underperforming in all aspects of running a power play: puck movement, offensive awareness, zone entries, shots on, and of course in getting any goals out of them. That has to change starting tonight, because penalties in the playoffs are precious, even if they do happen more than you’d think they do, and any opportunity to put distance between yourself and the opponent should not be taken lightly. The Bruins need to make their power play just as dangerous as it was earlier in the season, because the Canes have been ready for this, and they are not a fun team to play with a man advantage.
The Depth is going to just show up and stay here, right?
This is not a “Oh it can show up in game 2 or game 3” thing. This is not a “It’ll come at just the right time” thing.
Every player below Erik Haula in the lineup has to show up tonight ready to play tough, play well, and ready to get someone, anyone, on the board or on the boards, because while the system holds strong defensively, one of it’s biggest headaches over the past few months has been getting consistent depth scoring. And the depth is coming into this game looking pretty good!
But they gotta keep that going, because one area the Canes absolutely have a leg up on the Bruins is in the performance of their depth forwards; every last one of them is well above water when it comes to getting shots on net, and only one of them (Martin Necas) is a below 50% in Expected Goals. It is up to Charlie Coyle and Tomas Nosek’s line to help shut the Canes down, and then also hike the puck back up ice to get offensive zone draws, get some cycles going, and hopefully get a goal or two as this series progresses. This also goes quite a bit for the bottom defense pairing; as Derek Forbort and Connor Clifton do have their upsides, but have also faced a myriad of headache-inducing quirks in their game that need to be ironed out into the best version of themselves.
After all, Carolina’s without their starting goaltender for the first three games. You have to press as much as you can.
The playoffs are a different season. But not for the reason many fans think. I have held the belief that the Playoffs are the truth laid bare about your team. Every positive amplified, as with every negative. It is up to the team to use those positives to overcome, and answer these questions with an emphatic “Yes.”
And I think the Bruins can do a little bit of that if they tap into these X-Factors for Game 1.