The Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here, and the Boston Bruins will kick off their quest for the cup Tuesday night at 8 p.m. as they take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round.
The Hurricanes are a familiar foe for the Bruins, as the two teams faced off in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Bruce Cassidy’s squad swept the Canes in the quick four-game series en route to the Stanley Cup Final.
Things might not be so easy this time around for Boston, however.
The Bruins stumbled out of the gates in the bubble, losing all four contests — one exhibition and three round robin — in unconvincing fashion.
Carolina, on the other hand, made quick work of the New York Rangers with a three-game sweep in the qualifying round.
“I don’t know if they’ll be more effective. That will depend on us, how we manage pucks and if we continue to be hard in the middle of the ice,” Cassidy said during his press conference on Monday morning. “Again, last year is last year. But there are a lot of the same faces, so obviously it’s going to be our goal to keep them to the outside.”
“There are a lot of similar faces as last year, same goes for our team,” captain Zdeno Chara added. “We see them as a very skilled and dangerous team.”
Despite the winless round-robin Chara and company shouldn’t be counted out against an opportunistic Hurricanes bunch. Here are three keys for a Bruins’ series win over the Hurricanes.
The top line must return to form
“Our best players must be our best players.”
Cassidy has lived by that aforementioned sentiment throughout his tenure in Boston. And it’s never rang more true than right now as the Bruins head into the round of 16
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have driven the Bruins time and again since Cassidy formed the trio. Right now they are all stuck in the mud.
The trio — widely regarded as one of the top scoring lines in the NHL — looked out of sorts as they failed to register a goal during round-robin play. Yes, they had some rust to shake off during a four-month layoff, but they also didn’t show the same tenacity in all three zones since entering the bubble.
“First few games I was rusty,” Brad Marchand admitted. “I felt like my conditioning level was there but my hands are taking some time to catch up.”
Marchand, Bergeron, nor Pastrnak can afford to slump any further. Otherwise, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins will be going home sooner than expected.
Slowing down Aho and company
On the other side of the ice, Boston’s defense core will have its hands full dealing with the young and speedy top line of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teraveinen.
They aren’t as seasoned as Boston’s top guns, but Carolina’s top line displayed a potent scoring touch against New York. Aho led the team with eight points (three goals, five assists) in the three games against the Rangers, while Svechnikov and Teraveinen combined for seven points.
“We know that they’re a good team. They are playing well right now. Some of they’re young stars are feeling it,” Marchand said about Carolina’s top trio. “They’re dangerous and we have to be prepared for it.”
Carolina’s offensive firepower can overwhelm opposing defenses, but a physical Boston blue-line can help at least slow down the potent trio. Yet, the Bruins will need to limit scoring chances in transition, particularly against the quick and crafty Aho and Svechnikov.
“You have to limit their touches. You have to close on them quickly when you can. And do damage control by not giving them easy chances off the rush,” Cassidy said. “That’s what I’ve always found against good offensive lines. You have to make them work for every inch of the ice, and if they’re willing to do that and have success doing that, then you have to tip your hat to them.”
A need to flip the switch, and quickly
It was evident that the Bruins didn’t take the round-robin as seriously as they needed to. This mentality played a significant role in their dip to the fourth seed in the East after ending the regular season with the league’s best record.
“Those are preseason games,” Marchand uttered Monday morning. “I mean, let’s call it what it is.”
Will that eventually hurt the Bruins in terms of potential matchups? We’ll have to wait and see, but it does offer some explanation into their mindset.
Now there’s no seeding on the line. Each game matters now and Boston’s veteran leadership needs to get everyone on the same page. There’s no tomorrow. If you lay a dud in any of these games you don’t have the luxury of falling back on home ice advantage inside the bubble.
The Bruins need to make an early statement in this series because they look like a wounded animal and a talented and more seasoned Hurricanes bunch appear hungry to avenge last year’s loss.
If the Bruins can show up with the same mentality that got them to the very summit last season, they will have success in his series. On paper, the Bruins are a better team, but flipping the switch from preseason to postseason form won’t be easy.
Last season is not this season. Furthermore, this season is no longer this season. Playoff hockey is a different beast and it requires an exponential intensity and mindset.
It’s kill or be killed. It’s up to the Bruins to decide which one they will be.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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