If you had Boston vs Carolina as the Eastern Conference Finals matchup in your bracket, I hope you made plenty of money on that. One of the more unexpected Conference Finals matchups in recent years should make for an exciting game with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line. Each team has had a bit of a breather while waiting for the Western Conference to wrap up their semifinal series and, now, it’s game time once more.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been making new fans for months, ever since Canadian hockey analyst (and former Boston Bruins head coach) Don Cherry referred to the team as a “bunch of jerks” for their intricate and fun-focused post-win celebrations. In the playoffs, their play, passion, and willing adoption of the “bunch of jerks” moniker has magnified that even further. After entering the playoffs as a Wild Card, the Canes took down the reigning champion Washington Capitals with a Game 7 win on the road in Round 1. Riding that momentum, they trounced the New York Islanders in Round 2 with a four-game sweep.
They did that despite being without primary goalie Petr Mrazek for most of the series. Mrazek went down in Game 2 and had to be replaced by Curtis McElhinney. McElhinney went on to pick up wins in Games 2, 3, and 4 to close out the series. For the Eastern Conference Finals, Mrazek is expected to be back and healthy, giving the Canes a one-two punch in net.
Speaking of rest, Carolina is the third team this postseason to complete a series sweep, with the other two instances happening in the first round. Those two teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, both lost their next series after closing out the sweep.
The Boston Bruins enter the series with a bit of rest, having beaten Columbus (4-2) in the semifinals. Boston’s biggest keys this postseason, much like for Carolina, have been defense and goaltending. Tuukka Rask played very well in the final games of the Bruins’ series with the Blue Jackets and will now have to fend off the Hurricanes.
Offensively, Boston’s top line struggled for chunks of the second round. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak combined for just a single point across the first three games of the series, but David Krejci stepped up to keep the Bruins’ offense going. The top line would turn things up in Games 4 and 5, helping lead Boston to three straight wins to close out the Jackets.
Special teams play was the other big part of Boston’s win over Columbus. After allowing a game-winning power play goal to the Jackets in double overtime of Game 2, the Bruins successfully killed off 12 out of the final 13 power plays they gave up. Combine that with Carolina’s special teams struggles in these playoffs—the Hurricanes have the worst power play and the worst penalty kill of any team to win a series this postseason—and this could be Boston’s key to moving on to the Stanley Cup Final.
Historically speaking, Carolina is 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals since relocating from Hartford in the 1990s. The Canes won in 2002 and 2006, and lost in the finals during their last playoff appearance in 2009. In fact, 2019 marks the fourth consecutive playoff appearance for Carolina where the Canes have found themselves in the conference finals.
Boston is 2-0 in conference finals appearances since the Whalers relocated to Raleigh, winning in both 2011 and 2013. Their last trip to the penultimate round of the NHL Playoffs prior to that came back in 1992 when the Bruins lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The last time these two teams met in the postseason was in 2009, when Carolina beat the Bruins in the conference semifinals in a seven-game series. Boston is favored this time around, and I think that the Bruins are a better team than Carolina, but that’s yet to stop these Hurricanes. I think Carolina will grab a win in one of the first two games in Boston and go on to win the series in six.
Drew has been covering sports professionally since 2007, covering sports of all kinds in the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Conference USA. In addition to covering college sports, he also spent two seasons working with the NHL's Florida Panthers as part of their TV broadcast team, as well as reporting and anchoring for AT&T SportsNet and FOX Sports affiliates, CBS Sports Network and ESPNU. Drew has also ...
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