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Conference Final

Bruins vs. Hurricanes playoff preview

Boston, Carolina set for Eastern Conference Final, first postseason series against each other since 2009

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Bruins: Defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round; Defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 in best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round.

Hurricanes: Defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round; Defeated the New York Islanders 4-0 in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round.

Season series: BOS 2-1-0; CAR 1-1-1

 

The skinny

The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes will renew an old rivalry when they play in the Eastern Conference Final.

Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at TD Garden on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). The Bruins will be without defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who is suspended one game for an illegal check to the head against Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Monday.

This will be the third time the teams will face off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the Hurricanes moved to North Carolina from Hartford in 1997 and the fifth time they've played against each other in the postseason. The Bruins defeated their former regional rivals, the Hartford Whalers, in the 1990 and '91 Adams Division Semifinals. 

The Hurricanes defeated the Bruins in seven games in the 2009 conference semifinals. That was the last time Carolina qualified for the playoffs and reached the conference final, where it was swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Bruins eliminated the Blue Jackets on Monday to advance to the conference final for the first time since 2013, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Boston (49-24-9), which finished second in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division during the regular season with 107 points, won the last three games against Columbus by a combined score of 11-4. 

"If you're playing this time of year, you're doing something right and building something great as a team," Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said. "So we're super happy to be in this position and we'll try to keep the train rolling."

Carolina (46-29-7), which qualified as the first wild card into the playoffs from the East with 99 points, has won six straight since losing 6-0 to the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the first round. The winning streak is the second-longest in Hurricanes/Whalers playoff history behind a seven-game run in 2006, when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.

"The journey that we've been on -- and, obviously, the road isn't over -- we're still creating it ourselves," Hurricanes forward and captain Justin Williams said "But it's been quite a change around here certainly in the past few months. Everybody's believing in each other and you see what happens."

Video: Bruins, Hurricanes tangle in Eastern Conference Final

 

Game breakers

Bruins: After setting NHL career-highs with 38 goals and 81 points during the regular season, David Pastrnak started slowly in the playoffs with one assist in his first three games. The forward heated up after that and has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his past 10 games. Pastrnak scored twice in a 4-3 win against the Blue Jackets in Game 5, including the winning goal with 1:28 remaining. He has 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 31 Stanley Cup Playoffs games.

Hurricanes: Jaccob Slavin's 11 playoff assists are second behind San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson (12) and nearly half his regular-season total of 23. But the defenseman's offensive production in his first NHL postseason experience is only part of what has made him so valuable for Carolina. Slavin ranks sixth in the playoffs with an average ice time of 26:36 and has spent much of it matched against opponents' top lines, helping limit the New York Islanders to two even-strength goals in the second round. He likely will see a lot of the Bruins' top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak in the conference final.

 

Goaltending

Bruins: Rask played every minute in the first two rounds, going 8-5 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. He went 4-2 with a 1.71 GAA and .948 save percentage in the second round, including a 39-save shutout in Game 6. Backup Jaroslav Halak was 2-0-0 with a 2.47 GAA and .938 save percentage against the Hurricanes during the regular season. He is 13-15 with a 2.39 GAA and .924 save percentage in 30 NHL postseason games (28 starts).

Hurricanes: Coach Rod Brind'Amour has an interesting decision to make with Petr Mrazek ready to return from a lower-body injury sustained in the second period of Game 2 against the Islanders. Mrazek (5-3, 2.22 GAA, .913 save percentage, two shutouts) was instrumental in Carolina's upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals and had a 31-save shutout in a 1-0 overtime win in Game 1 against the Islanders. But Curtis McElhinney, who became the oldest goalie in NHL history to make his first playoff start in Game 3 against New York (35 years, 343 days), was superb subbing for Mrazek, going 3-0 with a 1.56 GAA and .947 save percentage.

Video: Rask posts a shutout in Game 6 as the Bruins advance

 

Numbers to know

Bruins: Marchand is tied with Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon and forward Mikko Rantanen for second with 13 playoff points (five goals, eight assists), one point behind San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (14 points; nine goals, five assists). Bergeron has won an NHL-high 180 face-offs and his 61.2 winning percentage is first among players who have taken more than 75 draws. Boston is an NHL-best 28.6 percent (10-for-35) on the power play but went 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) in the second round. 

Hurricanes: Carolina is second in the NHL with a 2.27 team GAA in the playoffs (behind Boston's 2.15 GAA) and second in scoring with 3.09 goals per game behind the Vegas Golden Knights (3.57). The Hurricanes are 5-0 at home, outscoring opponents 22-7. They ended a 0-for-23 drought on the power play with center Sebastian Aho's goal in the first period of Game 4 against the Islanders. Forward Justin Williams' goal in Game 4 against New York was his 100th NHL playoff point (39 goals, 61 assists).

 

Injury report

Bruins: Defenseman Kevan Miller (lower body) has not played since April 4 and had a setback in his recovery during the first round. Defenseman John Moore (upper body) missed the entire second round after also sitting out the first three games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Forward Noel Acciari (upper body) missed the final two games of the second round. 

Hurricanes: Forward Micheal Ferland (upper body) practiced Wednesday and is expected back for Game 1 after missing eight games. Forwards Jordan Martinook (lower body) and Saku Maenalanen (upper body) also practiced, with Maenalanen wearing a non-contact jersey. Mrazek returned to practice Monday. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk had surgery on his left shoulder on May 2 and is expected to be out 4-6 months.

 

They said it

"We're halfway to our goal. I think you need to relish the plateaus along the way and we're certainly at one of those. We're in the final four teams and we've had to sacrifice to win some games against some really good teams. Toronto was a different beast than Columbus was, but they each bring their own challenges and we were able to answer both challenges. -- Bruins forward David Backes

"You need to have a lot of things go your way, obviously. … But we also had a lot of things not go our way and that to me is where we established some sort of traction. It doesn't matter what seems to get thrown at us -- injuries, other things that could have derailed us -- nobody even blinked an eye, and that goes to say a lot about what we have going." -- Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour

Video: Brind'Amour on Carolina's success, team contributions

 

Will win if…

Bruins: They get enough scoring from their depth forwards and Rask continues to play like an elite goalie. The Bruins will probably use home-ice advantage to get their top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak away from Hurricanes center Jordan Staal and Slavin (whether he's paired with Dougie Hamilton or Justin Faulk) during the games in Boston, but they will have to continue to get contributions from players like centers Charlie Coyle (five goals) and David Krejci (four goals), and more from others, including forward Jake DeBrusk (two goals).

Hurricanes: Their defense continues to be efficient in moving the puck out of their end and their goalies, whether it's Mrazek or McElhinney, continue to play at a high level. The puck-moving ability of the top four on defense (Slavin, Hamilton, Faulk and Brett Pesce) is the key to defusing the opponent's forecheck and starting Carolina's offense. 

 

How they look

Bruins projected lineup

Brad Marchand -- Patrice Bergeron -- David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk -- David Krejci -- David Backes

Marcus Johansson -- Charlie Coyle -- Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom -- Sean Kuraly -- Chris Wagner

Zdeno Chara -- Connor Clifton

Torey Krug -- Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk -- Steven Kampfer

Tuukka Rask

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Zane McIntyre, Karson Kuhlman, John Moore

Suspended: Charlie McAvoy

 

Hurricanes projected lineup

Andrei Svechnikov -- Sebastian Aho -- Teuvo Teravainen

Nino Niederreiter -- Jordan Staal -- Justin Williams

Warren Foegele -- Lucas Wallmark -- Brock McGinn

Jordan Martinook -- Greg McKegg -- Micheal Ferland

Jaccob Slavin -- Dougie Hamilton

Brett Pesce -- Justin Faulk

Haydn Fleury -- Calvin de Haan

Petr Mrazek

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Jake Bean, Patrick Brown

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