Previewing the Carolina Hurricanes' Third Swing at the Boston Bruins

Suspense-Thriller author Jeb Bohn

By Jeb Bohn

On the heels of the best regular season in franchise history, the Carolina Hurricanes will open the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday. Their first-round opponent—the Boston Bruins—is a familiar foe, having dispatched the Hurricanes in both 2019 and 2020.

How much did Carolina learn from those experiences—along with their second-round loss to Tampa Bay last season? Are the Bruins at the end of their window for contention? Let’s see how the teams stack up.

Offensive Breakdown

Carolina finished the season with 278 goals scored, good enough for ninth place in the NHL. Depth played a huge role as five players scored at least 20 goals, while two (Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov) hit the 30-goal mark.

Seth Jarvis put up a strong rookie season, finishing with 17 goals in 68 games. Captain Jordan Staal had a late-season surge that saw him match Jarvis in goals. Tony DeAngelo put up 10 goals from the blueline while Brady Skjei—another former New York Ranger—finished with nine.

All told, the Hurricanes boast 11 players who put up double-digit goal totals and nine who hit at least 40 points.

Boston ended the season with 253 goals, placing them 15th out of 32 teams. The Bruins also have five 20-goal scorers, led by David Pastrnak (40) and Brad Marchand (32). Former Hurricane Erik Haula netted 18, followed by Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith with 16 goals apiece.

The Bruins roster features nine double-digit goal scorers; eight players hit the 40-point mark.

On paper, the Hurricanes have a slight edge. Wringing robust performances from Martin Necas, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and newcomer Max Domi could put Carolina well ahead.

Defensive Breakdown

For years, the Hurricanes have prided themselves on their defensive acumen. In 2021-22, they lived up to the hype. Yes, there were hiccups and miscues but, at the end of the year, their 202 goals against stands as the league’s best mark.

Stalwarts Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce provided exactly what fans have come to expect: solid positioning, smart stick work, and physicality when needed.

Putting the eye test aside, let’s look at even-strength goals against per 60 for defenders appearing in at least 10 games:

Granted, this isn’t a flawless stat to utilize, but it gives a decent baseline to the team’s performance while each defender is on the ice.

Now, let’s take a look at the Bruins:

It’s little surprise to see Grzelcyk and McAvoy near the top of the list. The same holds true for Lindholm, who acquitted himself well in Boston after his arrival just before the trade deadline.

Continuing with this metric, the eight Hurricanes’ defensemen carried an average of 2.275 even-strength goals against per 60 minutes. For Boston, the average is 2.32. It’s a slight advantage toward Carolina, though the teams are nearly dead even here.

The key for the Hurricanes will be their vigilance. With the team’s stifling forecheck relying heavily on pressure from the defense, they will have to watch for odd-man rushes against.

In terms of offense from the backend, Carolina got 204 points from defensemen during the season, led by DeAngelo’s 51. Boston got 150 from theirs, spearheaded by 56 from McAvoy. However, from the perspective of offensive depth, the Hurricanes have the edge.

Goaltending

Despite concerns heading into the season, Carolina’s tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta gave the Hurricanes the best season of goaltending they’ve ever had. As a result, the duo earned the first-ever Jennings Trophy in franchise history.

However, with game one around the corner, it’s uncertain if Andersen—the 35-wins, #1—will be ready to go. After suffering a lower-body injury on April 16, Andersen has been out of the lineup.

That said, you can’t ignore the fact that the Hurricanes went 6-0 to close out the season after Andersen’s injury. Raanta, who had his own injury scare against the Islanders on April 24, has proven to be a reliable option by posting a 15-5-4 record with two shutouts.

Then there’s Pyotr Kotchetkov.

The highly-touted Russian netminder made his NHL debut (and claimed his first win) against the New Jersey Devils on April 23. He stepped in against the Islanders after Raanta left, earning his second win. Finally, he turned aside 31 shots and outdueled likely Vezina finalist Igor Shesterkin as Carolina defeated the New York Rangers and claimed the Metropolitan Division championship.

For the Bruins, it was a season of transition between the pipes. Hip surgery kept longtime starter, Tuukka Rask, out until January. The Finnish goalie appeared in just four games before announcing his retirement in early February.

Knowing his team would be without Rask, Boston GM Don Sweeney signed former Buffalo Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark. Ullmark performed well, going 26-10-1 in 41 appearances. He missed two games in mid-April after a shot struck him in the mask during a game against the Ottawa Senators. He returned, winning in his three appearances down the stretch.

Second-year goalie Jeremy Swayman also appeared in 41 games for Boston, going 23-14-3. His goal against average and save percentage were on par with Ullmark’s, and he earned 3 shutouts to his platoon mates 1.

Both teams have reliable tandems, though—with Andersen’s status for game one uncertain—the young Kotchetkov becomes the wild card. The rookie had a strong showing in a short time, adapting quickly and displaying impressive agility and lateral movement. Should Andersen be unavailable, Hurricanes’ coach Rod Brind’Amour still has options that he can rely on.

Carolina Hurricanes Goaltending

Boston Bruins Goaltending

Special Teams

Following a torrid start, Carolina’s power play showed a noticeable drop in efficiency. At the season’s end, they sat at 21.98%, the 13th ranked unit in the league. Aho (13 PP goals) and Teuvo Teravainen (22 PP assists) are the two primary cogs up front; DeAngelo—and his 20 power play points—will continue to be relied upon as quarterback.

Boston finished with the 18th-ranked power play, coming in at 20.85%. Pastrnak led the way with 15 goals on the man advantage; Marchand posted 20 power play assists. Their blueline leader was McAvoy, who led all Bruin defensemen with 21 power play points.

In terms of shorthanded goals against, the Hurricanes allowed 3 and the Bruins 6.

The penalty kill is where Carolina shined most. This is especially fitting since they were the second-most penalized team in the NHL this season. At 88.04%, their kill was nearly 3% higher than the San Jose Sharks, the second-ranked team in this regard.

Boston’s kill came in at 81.47%, the ninth-best mark in the league. While they took fewer penalties than Carolina, it wasn’t by a huge margin.

Neither team generated much offense shorthanded; Carolina finished with 4 such goals, and Boston with 5.

The Hurricanes hold the edge here, but it’s imperative that they tamp down on their tendency to take careless penalties. The games get tighter and more physical in the playoffs, so the key will be finding the right balance. Boston’s power play wasn’t particularly impressive during the season, but they have the personnel to hurt you if you give them the chance.

Outlook

The teams are on two different trajectories, with Boston being closer to the end of their championship window while Carolina’s is just opening. The Hurricanes arguably hold the advantage across the board, though some aspects are very close.

For Carolina to advance, there are a few things they have to do:

  • Dictate the pace of play. They have to assert their will and hem the Bruins in their own zone.
  • Win the special teams battle. Cut out the needless penalties and make Boston earn their chances. The power play getting back into form will be huge if the Hurricanes can pull it off.
  • Stay focused. Boston has the ability to get under your skin (I’m looking at your, Brad Marchand). Carolina has to stick to their game, standing up when needed but not biting on penalty bait.

The question comes from goaltending. Will Andersen be ready? If not, will Raanta or Kotchetkov get the nod? The positive is that each goalie has shown themself to be a reliable option.

This series could be unpredictable. It could be done in five, or maybe it’ll go the distance. I’ll play it safe in my prognostication.

My pick?

Hurricanes in six.

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Season Series

10/28/21

Car-3 Bos-0

1/18/22

Car-7 Bos-1

2/10/22

Car-6 Bos-0

Leading Scorers

Carolina Hurricanes:

Aho: 37G; 44A; 81P

Svechnikov: 30G; 39A; 69P

Teravainen: 22G; 43A; 65P

Trocheck: 21G; 30A; 51P

DeAngelo: 10G; 41A; 51P

Boston Bruins:

Marchand: 32G; 48A; 80P

Pastrnak: 40G; 37A; 77P

Bergeron: 25G; 40A; 65P

Hall: 20G; 41A; 61P

McAvoy: 10G; 46A; 56P

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