By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Do the Hurricanes have enough to match up well with the favored Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals? Their latest line combinations indicate how head coach Rod Brind'Amour is planning his attack.
Canes Country tweeted the Hurricanes' line rushes during practice on Wednesday as they get ready for Game 1 at TD Garden on Thursday. Regardless of how they deploy their forward groups, the strategy is self-evident. Here's how they lined up.
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
Same D pairs. Goalies in their same spots
— x - Canes Country (@CanesCountry) May 8, 2019
Bruins' projected lines:
#NHLBruins practice lines:
Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak
DeBrusk - Krejci - Backes
Johansson - Coyle - Heinen
Nordstrom - Kuraly - Wagner
Chara - Clifton
Krug - Carlo
Grzelcyk - Kampfer
Moore - McAvoy
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 8, 2019
Brind'Amour is overloading his top line with speed, skill, and creativity on offense. Sebastian Aho is their top threat and may have to be the best player on the ice for the Canes to win this series. He'll be setting up the team's two most skilled wingers on each side in dynamic rookie Andrei Svechnikov and two-way threat Teuvo Teravainen. The latter has the kind of versatility to give any Bruins winger a challenge at both ends of the ice. But it's also likely you'll see Bruce Cassidy try to sic the fourth line (Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Chris Wagner) on that trio.
It appears that Brind'Amour will almost certainly match the Nino Niederreiter-Jordan Staal-Justin Williams group against the Patrice Bergeron line. This would be the series' most compelling matchup of Cup-hungry veterans with big-game resumes. Their best 5-on-5 performance against Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak came with Staal against them in a game all the way back on Oct. 30.
Though the Bruins won the game 3-2 on the strength of two power-play goals, the only time they could break through 5-on-5 was on a bit of a low-percentage play off a faceoff. Bergeron wrestled the puck loose from the more offensive-minded Brett Pesce and sprung Brad Marchand for a footrace that he won over Williams. Then Marchand roasted a heinously out-of-position Scott Darling for a wraparound goal. The play itself was impressive, but not a reliable approach over a seven-game playoff series.
Overall, the Bruins attempted just seven shots to the Hurricanes' 16 with Bergeron matched up against Staal. Special teams may not be as much of a factor in a conference final as it was on the day before Halloween, so the Bruins will have to hope for a more efficient 5-on-5 performance from Bergeron's line against the Hurricanes' big, tenacious backchecking forwards.
"They're a team that's in your face and doesn't give you much space, and is very deep also, and have some very good puck-moving defensemen," Bergeron told reporters on Wednesday. "I think it's going to be a similar series to what we've seen so far in the first two. Like I said, 5-on-5 is very tight hockey, and they have some big bodies too. So [we expect a] physical series and we expect that to be a tough one."
In the bottom-six, the Canes have two forward groups with the potential to disrupt the David Krejci line with their physicality and energy. Jordan Martinook, Greg McKegg, and Micheal Ferland may even get some time against the Bergeron line and that's when things could flair up a bit. Warren Foegele-Lucas Wallmark-Brock McGinn makes sense against Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle-Danton Heinen. The potential Battle Of The Third Lines™ has a chance to swing the series as much as any matchup.
On the back end, the Hurricanes' best hope to slow down the Bruins' forwards will be the pairing of Jaccob Slavin and ex-Bruin Dougie Hamilton. Who knows which Hamilton we're going to get with the mercurial defenseman going up against his former team? But Slavin has been one of the best all-around defensemen in the league during the playoffs. He's on par with the Blue Jackets' Seth Jones as a defensive threat, and more so than the Maple Leafs' Jake Muzzin.
Their second pairing of Pesce and Justin Faulk will be more dangerous with their puck movement through the neutral zone and around Tuukka Rask's territory than their defensive acumen. But ultimately, the Hurricanes' chances in the series may hinge on Slavin controlling the game in his own end.
The Hurricanes have skill at the top, smarts and aggressiveness at the bottom, and versatility everywhere. They have a top scoring center, two-way winger, and shutdown defenseman. The series may ultimately come down to the Bruins' advantage in goal with Rask, but the B's have some matchups in front of him that can't be overlooked.
It's surprising that anyone would do that after witnessing the challenges presented by Toronto and Columbus. The team that beat the Capitals, then swept an Islanders team that swept the Penguins, should be a tough out.
It's going to come down to Carolina's ability to win those key matchups in order to keep the Bruins from reaching their first Stanley Cup Final since 2013.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].