If you didn’t learn your lesson from the First Round to the Second Round, hopefully you’ve learned it by now, because their is no “Third Chance Bracket”.
Yes, it’s time for the Conference Finals in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ladies and gentlemen, and this year in the Eastern Conference it’s an old Adams Division rivalry matchup.
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
The Boston Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the First Round for the second year in-a-row, then went on to defeat John Tortorella and his pesky Columbus Blue Jackets in six games in the Second Round after turning more than a few heads during the regular season for their resolve during periods of injury.
The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t beat the Washington Capitals at any point in the regular season, but forced the defending Stanley Cup champions to a decisive Game 7– and won– to punch their ticket to the Second Round, then the Canes swept the New York Islanders.
Don Cherry labeled the Hurricanes as a “bunch of jerks” for their post-win celebrations in the regular season. People from Massachusetts are sometimes referred to as “Massholes”– especially when they get talking about their sports teams.
For the first time since 2009, Carolina made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That same postseason, these two organizations collided in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It was just the second time the Hurricanes went head-to-head in the playoffs with Boston since relocating from Hartford, where the Whalers went 0-2 in their postseason series lifetime against the B’s in the days of the Adams Division.
The Bruins eliminated the Canes in six games in 1999.
Ten years later, Carolina eliminated the B’s on road ice– in overtime– in a Game 7. Scott Walker scored the infamous goal after sucker punching former Hurricane defender, Aaron Ward earlier in the series.
Though this will only be the fifth time both clubs have met each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, these teams don’t like each other.
If that wasn’t “old time hockey” enough for you, Carolina was wearing their throwback Whalers sweaters at TD Garden that evening.
The Bruins came back from a two-goal deficit to win in overtime in that game.
Earlier in the season, the Hurricanes donned their Hartford Whalers throwbacks for “Whalers Night” at PNC Arena on Dec. 23rd and both clubs swapped goals until Carolina came out on top– for once in a Hartford sweater– in a whale’s tale of a regular season battle.
Though the Bruins hold a 3-1 advantage in all-time series matchups with the Hurricanes (including their two meetings while still in Hartford), this isn’t your father’s Whalers/Hurricanes.
Rod Brind’Amour is back (remember him?)– this time as the head coach of the team he won the Stanley Cup with in 2006.
When Brind’Amour makes a lineup change, though it may be rare, it’s deliberate. Hell, Greg McKegg had the series clinching goal in the Second Round.
Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, will have to keep adapting throughout each game– let alone the series– as he traditionally has since taking over behind the bench for the B’s in Feb. 2017.
Boston has been looking for the right amount of scoring touch for the last few seasons and General Manager, Don Sweeney, made sure to add without subtracting for this season’s deep run.
Third line center, Charlie Coyle, has proven to fit in just fine with the Bruins’ brass and Johansson even had a goal in Game 6 against Columbus.
Neither of those players were on the roster at the beginning of February, but by the end of it, Sweeney had dealt Ryan Donato and a draft pick to the Minnesota Wild for Coyle, as well as draft picks to the New Jersey Devils for Johansson to assure himself of some much needed– coveted even– depth in the bottom-six.
Secondary scoring hasn’t been a problem in this postseason run for the Bruins.
Coyle is tied for 4th on the roster in points this postseason with 5-3–8 totals in 13 games, while Johansson has chipped in two goals and three assists (five points) in 11 games played.
Leading the way in the top-six forwards, Brad Marchand has 5-8–13 totals in 13 games played. His teammate on the first line, David Pastrnak is starting to get his hot hands back and enters the Eastern Conference Final with six goals and five assists (11 points) in 13 games.
Krejci is three points shy of 100 career Stanley Cup Playoff points (all with the Bruins) and had the game-winning, series clinching, goal at Nationwide Arena in Monday’s, 3-0, shutout over the Blue Jackets.
Speaking of shutouts, Boston goaltender, Tuukka Rask is on fire lately. Rask is 8-5 with a 2.02 goals against average and .938 save percentage in 13 games played this postseason.
Gerry Cheevers holds the franchise record with eight postseason shutouts in his time wearing a black-and-gold sweater.
Though the B’s will be without Charlie McAvoy for Game 1 (McAvoy will be serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head against Josh Anderson in Game 6 against Columbus), Torey Krug (1-7–8 totals) still knows how to move the puck around– especially on Boston’s special teams opportunities.
In addition, the postseason emergence of workhorse, Brandon Carlo, on the blue line has solidified an already stable, experienced, defense with 42-year-old captain, Zdeno Chara (a plus-nine rating through 13 games) leading from his own zone.
But Carolina has a workhorse of their own– with more offensive skill than Carlo. Jaccob Slavin has 11 assists from the point this postseason in 11 games.
No other defenders have had as many assists as Slavin in Whalers/Hurricanes postseason history.
Slavin also leads his team in scoring, while forwards, Teuvo Teravainen, Warren Foegele, Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho and are tied for 2nd place on the roster in postseason scoring– each player has nine points through 11 games of Carolina’s 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff run.
Teravainen leads his team in goals with six so far this postseason, but newcomer Foegele is hot on his tail with five goals and a team-best 31.3 shooting percentage.
Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, didn’t need to add much during the season, but it certainly helped that he was able to flip Victor Rask for Nino Niederreiter, who’s been a versatile addition up-and-down the lineup when Brind’Amour has called his name.
Bringing back a little familiarity in July 2017 didn’t hurt either, as “Mr. Game 7” himself and pending-UFA, Justin Williams, not only reached 100 career playoff points in Game 4 against the Islanders, but has helped lift Carolina over their playoff opponents with 3-3–6 totals in 11 games.
On defense, former Bruin Dougie Hamilton has three goals and four assists (seven points) in 11 games with the Canes this postseason. He leads his fellow defenders in goals, but trails Slavin in points thus far.
Though Carolina looks to be a top-heavy team on paper, their entire lineup was able to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions in the First Round and limit New York to five goals in four games in the Second Round.
Nobody prevents goals against as a last resort more than a goaltender and the Hurricanes have gotten everything they’ve needed and more from their goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney this season.
Mrazek (5-3, 2.22 GAA, .913 SV% in nine games played this postseason) got the Canes past the Capitals in the First Round and went down with a lower body injury in Game 2 against the Isles last round.
That’s where McElhinney (3-0, 1.56 GAA, .947 SV% in three games played this postseason) stepped up and got the job done in relief in Game 2 against New York and as the oldest goaltender to make his first career start in Stanley Cup Playoff history at the age of 35 in Game 3 on home ice against the Islanders.
Brind’Amour doesn’t want to rush Mrazek if he is not 100% and could very well keep going with the upper hand of McElhinney for the time being against Boston to start the series.
The Bruins led the season series 2-1-0, however, regular season success only means so much for the playoffs. Home ice is a great thing, sure, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are an entirely different animal when it comes to predictions based on season performance.
When the Hurricanes beat the Bruins, 5-3, on Dec. 23rd in Carolina, Boston went on to lose to New Jersey on Dec. 27th in regulation.
The B’s did not lose consecutive games in regulation until they lost three games in-a-row on the road from March 10-14th (4-2 loss to PIT on March 10th, 7-4, loss to CBJ on March 12th and a, 4-3, loss to WPG on March 14th).
Since Jan. 1st, Boston went 28-10-5 to finish off the regular season, while the Hurricanes went 31-11-2 from Jan. 1st until the dawn of the postseason.
Both teams have been hot since the turn of the calendar year. There’s no reason why either of them don’t deserve to have made it this far in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, one of them will have to lose in order for the other to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Boston is poised to utilize their roster that’s full of playoff experience, while Carolina is certain to try to continue to their underdog story.
That said, the Bruins are taking the series in six games and heading back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT BOS at TD Garden on March 5th, 5-3 CAR at PNC Arena on Dec. 23rd, 3-2 BOS at PNC Arena on Oct. 30th
5/9- Game 1 CAR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/12- Game 2 CAR @ BOS 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/14- Game 3 BOS @ CAR 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/16- Game 4 BOS @ CAR 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
5/18- Game 5 CAR @ BOS 7:15 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*
5/20- Game 6 BOS @ CAR 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN1, TVAS*
5/22- Game 7 CAR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS*