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Eastern Conference Final Preview: Hurricanes vs. Bruins

Canes shipping up to Boston to begin third round

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Eight wins down, eight to go.

After ousting the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and then dispatching the New York Islanders in the franchise's first best-of-seven series sweep, the Carolina Hurricanes are one of four finalists left standing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In 2009, the Hurricanes earned a berth in the Eastern Conference Final after topping the Boston Bruins in seven games. Ten years later, the Hurricanes face off with the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, with the winner advancing to play for Lord Stanley's Cup.

"Our goal wasn't to be one of the four teams remaining. Our goal was to keep playing and be the best team," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said after his team's Second Round series victory. "I don't think too many people expected us to be here, but we did. I know that's easy to say now because we're here, but that's the truth."

2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

The Hurricanes, who have won 11 of their last 13 playoff series dating back to 2002, draw the Bruins in the postseason for the third time in team (since relocation) history. The series opens in Boston on Thursday, following a physical and mental rest period for the Hurricanes, who played 11 playoff games in a 23-day span.

"It's important to get your rest, very important," captain Justin Williams said at the conclusion of the Second Round. "It's a weapon this time of year."

Time to get back to work.

By the Numbers

2018-19 Regular Season Stats
46-29-7 Record 49-24-9
99 Points 107
2.96 Goals per game 3.13
2.70 Goals against per game 2.59
17.8% Power Play 25.9%
81.6% Penalty Kill 79.9%
34.4 Shots for per game 32.7
28.6 Shots against per game 29.5
49.0% Faceoffs 50.7%
CAROLINA   BOSTON
2019 Playoff Stats
8-3 Record 8-5
3.09 Goals per game 3.08
2.27 Goals against per game 2.15
10.5% Power Play 28.6%
75.0% Penalty Kill 83.8%
31.2 Shots for per game 35.7
27.8 Shots against per game 33.5
50.0% Faceoffs 53.1%
CAROLINA   BOSTON

Revisiting the Season Series

The Hurricanes and Bruins met three times in the 2018-19 regular season. The Hurricanes finished 1-1-1 in the season series, which included two Whalers-themed match-ups.

"They're a championship team that knows how to get it done," Brind'Amour said of the Bruins. "There are no weaknesses. Goaltending, great D, balance up front. No surprise that they're having the success they're having."

Oct. 30: Bruins 3, Hurricanes 2

Brad Marchand scored two straight goals, one with just 18 seconds left in the second period and the next at the 5:23 mark of the third period, to lift the Bruins past the Hurricanes, 3-2, in the first game of the season series. Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton chipped in power-play goals for the Canes, who also surrendered power-play goals to David Pastrnak and Marchand in a tough, early season loss.

"The margins are tight here. We're right there, but it can go either way. Right now, it's going the other way. A mistake here or there is costing us games," Brind'Amour said. "We just have to stick with it and get rid of those mistakes. … Those are killing us."

Video: CAR Recap: Aho ties NHL assist mark in loss to Bruins

Dec. 23: Hurricanes 5, Bruins 3

The Bruins got a couple of bounces in the first period to claim an early 2-0 lead, but the Canes stormed back with four straight goals. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen led the charge, with each Finn tallying a shorthanded goal and four points (2g, 2a).

"That was special. They were flying," Brind'Amour said. "It was nice to see them get rewarded."

The 5-3 win was a nice Christmas send-off for the Canes, who had dropped disappointing games to Detroit and Pittsburgh at home just days prior.

"The guys, they prepared today. They had their own little chat. Willy got them ready," Brind'Amour said. "You could see from the start they were engaged, even when we got down. That was nice to see. The level was engagement, really for 60 minutes, was there."

Video: Aho, Teravainen power Hurricanes past Bruins, 5-3

March 5: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)

In the regular-season match-up perhaps most indicative for what's ahead in the Eastern Conference Final, the Hurricanes and Bruins played an intense, competitive 60-plus minutes of hockey.

Aho's pair of goals - one, a bouncer off his skate while he was jostling for position in front of the net, and two, a deft backhander on a breakaway - gave the Canes a 2-0 lead that was then erased by three straight goals from Boston. Chris Wagner and Jake DeBrusk potted rebound goals to tie the game before the second intermission, and Patrice Bergeron netted a shorthanded goal in the third to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead. Enter Captain Clutch, who tied the game with a one-timer from the top of the right circle with 7:43 left in regulation. David Krejci netted the game-winner in overtime for the Bruins to stretch their point streak to 17 games.

"Two good teams playing each other," Aho said. "It was intense."

Video: CAR Recap: Aho scores twice in OT loss to Bruins

Why the Hurricanes Pose a Challenge for the Bruins

Rested & Ready

The Hurricanes had virtually no time to breathe between the First Round and the Second Round. After a grueling, seven-game series against the defending champs, they were thrown right into another best-of-seven slate against a team that had sat idle for nine days.

The Hurricanes handled it just fine, defeating the New York Islanders in a four-game sweep, which led to some much-needed time away from the rink. The Canes took Saturday and Sunday off before returning to the ice for practice on Monday.

"Any time you can get a mental break, it's as important as the physical stuff," Brind'Amour said. "Hopefully we'll see dividends."

The Hurricanes' break isn't as prolonged as the one the Islanders experienced. The Canes wrapped up the Second Round on Friday, May 3 and square off with Boston in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday, May 9.

"In practice sometimes, you can sometimes be caught going through the motions a little bit. That's not something we can get by with here," Williams said. "We know how we have to play, and we know how we have to practice. You stay sharp in this week between games."

"We just have to make sure we're ready for Game 1," Hamilton said. "We were in such a rhythm when we were just playing. We weren't skating. We were just playing every other day. It becomes a grind, so it's nice to have a little break."

Tough to Contain

The Hurricanes' style of play is tough to contain. Just ask the Islanders, who couldn't figure out how to stifle the Canes' aggressive, relentless forecheck or break through their smothering, 5-on-5 defense. And then there's the situation in the crease, with both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney stepping in and providing rock-solid goaltending in the Second Round.

The combination of their make-up and style of play makes the Hurricanes a daunting opponent, especially at even strength.

Boston is going to face the same conundrums both Washington and New York experienced, and it's not going to be easy to go through a hard-working, motivated bunch directed by hard-working, motivated leaders.

"Every day, their approach to what we do, taking pride in how they do things and who they're doing it with. They just come to work, man," Brind'Amour said on Friday. "They earn everything they're getting right now."

On a Roll

The Hurricanes have won six straight playoff games and seven of their last eight coming into the Eastern Conference Final.

There's a groove and confidence to the Hurricanes, and that's important in the quest to 16 wins.

"I'm just so proud of these guys," Brind'Amour said. "The guys want it really bad. … They just keep digging in."

"It's who's playing best right now, and obviously both teams are playing well to be here right now," Williams said.

Why the Bruins Pose a Challenge for the Hurricanes

No Dents in Rask

Through two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tuukka Rask has been one of the top-performing goaltenders. He sports a 2.02 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage, and he capped a Second Round series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 39-save shutout, the sixth of his playoff career.

The 32-year-old veteran netminder turned away 201 of the 212 shots he faced in the Second Round, posting a 1.83 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. Even better were his numbers from the last three games of the series, all victories for the Bruins: a 1.33 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage.

Big Threats

The trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is dangerous, whether they're playing on the top line or are split between the first two lines.

Marchand ranked tied for fifth in the league in regular-season scoring with 100 points (36g, 64a). Pastrnak put up a team-leading 38 goals and totaled 81 points in 66 games, while Bergeron recorded 79 points (32g, 47a) in 65 games. All three are in familiar positions on the team leaderboard in the postseason. Marchand is a point-per-game player with 13 (5g, 8a) in as many games, Pastrnak has 11 points (6g, 5a) and Bergeron has eight (5g, 3a).

"They have more than one line," Brind'Amour said. "They have a lot of other weapons, too."

Proven Core

The Bruins were last in the Eastern Conference Final in 2013. That team swept the Pittsburgh Penguins before falling short to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final. 

A handful of players from that team remain on the team's roster today, including Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Torey Krug and Tuukka Rask. It's a core that's battle-tested and experienced at this time of year.

"They have a championship pedigree. Their core has won. Their core is proven," Williams said. "They're hungry. They're motivated. I'm looking forward to a great challenge."

The Bottom Line

The Hurricanes dethroned the defending champs. The Hurricanes then made quick work of an upstart team that made quick work of their own in the First Round.

Now, four wins against the Boston Bruins separate the Hurricanes from the chance to play for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Game on.

"We're not making a ceiling for ourselves," Williams said after winning the Second Round. "We're not tapping out at making playoffs or winning a round or winning two rounds. We're going to see how good we can be."

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