Game 1 in Boston – Tonight, 7pm
Game 2 in Boston – Sunday, 2pm
Game 3 in Raleigh – Tuesday, 7pm
Game 4 in Raleigh – Thursday, 7pm
If you were privy to the private conversations we have here at the lab…well, you’d never read this blog again but I digress. What I meant to get to was over the past two or three seasons, there’s been a general feeling of mystification about the Boston Bruins. They look like one line and David Krejci, and a pretty good goalie and nothing else. And yet their metric numbers are always among the best, they always seem to rack up 100 points, so a first conference final appearance since that wonderful spring of 2013 seems like it’s overdue in some ways. They’ll be favored by everyone simply due to pedigree, but this is stiffest test they’ve seen yet.
Goalies: This would be easier if we could pin down who exactly is playing for Carolina. Petr Mrazek has returned to practice, so it stands to reason he’ll take his normal post…between the posts (that could be better). Curtis McElhinney did close out the Islanders from the third period of Game 2 on, but that was the Isles and their Trotz-inspired offense-allergy. The Bs come with far more firepower, and McElhinney also suffers from a serious case of being Curtis McElhinney. Mrazek has been killing it since February, and if he’s healthy there’s no reason to think he won’t at least be representative.
Sadly for Carolina, representative is probably not going to cut it, as Tuuke Nuke’Em has been excellent all playoffs long. He’s got a .938 over 13 games, and let just 11 goals in against the Jackets over six games. This is probably the best he’s played since that ’13 run to 17 seconds (he was .940 that spring), and in this kind of form he can win a series by himself. And it’s not like the Canes are loaded with deadly snipers here. This is Boston’s biggest edge no matter who dons the gear for the Canes.
Defense: And here’s Carolina’s biggest edge. The Isles trap was dealt with much more effectively by the Canes than the Penguins because they have a puck-mover on the ice all the time. In addition, Jaccob Slavin is setting himself up for Norris candidacies in the future and if the Canes make it to the Final he’d have a serious case for the Conn Smythe. While Dougie Hamilton took a fair share of grief for his dealings with Ovechkin, he’s been tearing opponents apart where it mattes, i.e. getting the puck up the ice. Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk aren’t far behind, and though they’ll mostly only play five with Calvin de Haan joining in as TVR is on the shelf for good, they’ve had basically a full week off and they’ll get an extra day between Games 1 and 2. If the series goes long that five-man rotation could bite them, but we’ll run that kitten over when we get to it.
This is where I just don’t get the Bruins. Zdeno Chara looked AWFUL against the Jackets, and there were some rushes outside of him that made me think of Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.) at the end of his career trying to go first-to-third on a single and really scared every bone in his body would just come spilling out through his heels. The entire corps is below water when it comes to possession and expected goals, and given that McAvoy looks like a busted pool toy in his own zone (when he’s not suspended) and they’re facing a dominant possession team here, it could be a real issue. I expect the Boston defense to try and be really physical with the small Carolina forwards, but they’re going to have to catch them first. And that didn’t really work out for the Capitals either.
Forwards: Normally, you’d say this is a star power vs. depth kind of thing. The Canes don’t have any front-line scorers, but they have a raft of really good forwards who keep the puck. The Teravainen-Staal-Neiderreiter (tear) line has been utterly destroying all in its path, and then you still have Sebastien Aho’s line to deal with. The Canes have gotten contributions from down the lineup as well, and they’ll probably need to keep doing that to get out of this. The Canes are kind of like the Itchy and Scratchy version of Fantasia, when Scratchy chopped up Itchy into vapor but then the vapor just became thousands of tiny Itchys and destroyed him from the inside.
The Bruins will stake a claim to being more than one line, and they’ve gotten help from Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, and Jake DeBrusk at times. But when they win, it’s because Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak-Krejci score. When they don’t, they likely lose. The Canes don’t have anything that can match those four, but they don’t depend on anyone like that either. While Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are good, they aren’t what Slavin is right now along with Hamilton. Sure, Marchand is going to try and annoy the piss out of Dougie, but I don’t know that there’s getting to Dougie, especially if he’s pushing the play. This is probably where your series is decided. If Slavin and Hamilton, or Pesce and Faulk in Boston, can keep Boston’s top line at least somewhat controlled, then Carolina’s raft of foot soldiers probably take this. If the Bs glitterati go off, the Canes probably can’t match.
Prediction: Probably more with my heart than my head here, but the way Slavin is playing makes me think the Canes can be the first team this spring to keep Boston’s top line under wraps. Rask is a big challenge, but then so was Lehner before the Canes got to him. Same goes for Holtby. Something about this Canes team. Also, fuck Boston. Canes in 6.