By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Through the first 120 minutes of their third-round head-to-head, the Hurricanes have not only learned that the Bruins are not the Islanders, but that they also might be better than the Capitals. And they now have to win four games before the Bruins win two if they're going to push their Cinderella run into a Cup appearance.
...You wanna talk about poop sandwiches?
Now, it's worth mentioning that the Hurricanes are not exactly dead. They found themselves in a similar situation against the defending Stanley Cup champs in round one and ultimately won the series in seven games. It also feels worth mentioning that Bruce Cassidy's Bruins kind of stink in Game 3 contests (they're 0-5 in Game 3 meetings since he took over behind the B's bench), and that the Bruins found themselves playing in a Game 7 the last time they jumped out to a 2-0 series edge (last year's first round against the Maple Leafs). They still have a chance and a half, especially with this series shifting to Raleigh, where Carolina is a perfect 5-0 this postseason with the rowdy Caniacs on their side.
It's just that it's hard to imagine this matchup getting any easier for first-year head coach Rod Brind'Amour's squad.
Forget about Petr Mrazek's aggressiveness getting absolutely exposed by the Bruins, who have scored 10 goals on 52 shots against Mrazek in this series (an .808 save percentage). Assume that Brind'Amour makes the switch to Curtis McElhinney in Game 3. Forget about Boston's undersized defense -- which only got better with the return of top-pairing driver Charlie McAvoy in Game 2 -- just plain outclassing Carolina's impressive top four defense group. Assume that Dougie Hamilton is no longer haunted by TD Garden and that Jaccob Slavin has stopped napping.
Just basically assume that the Hurricanes look like an even somewhat competent playoff team in Game 3. They absolutely should given the aforementioned postseason trends, as well as the fact that they're here for a reason, right? RIGHT?
Still, ask yourself: How are the 'Canes going to slow the Bruins down?
It's a question I've asked myself again and again over the last four periods of hockey. And I gotta admit that I'm coming up empty.
Start at the top of the Boston roster with the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line.
This line has absolutely devoured Carolina to date. In just 19:58 of five-on-five action this series, the Black and Gold's go-to line has controlled possession at 74.1 percent, outshot the 'Canes 11-5, and out-chanced them 1o-5. No Carolina pairing has even come close to slowing them down, either, as they've torched both the Slavin-Hamilton pairing and Brett Pesce-Justin Faulk combination. I'm truly not sure what more the Hurricanes can do to make this matchup a difficult one for the Bergeron Line.
Now, the trouble for Carolina on that front is that they absolutely won the head-to-head matchup with the Ovechkin-Backstrom combo in round one, and that those losses for the Caps' stars eventually worked towards the Hurricanes' advantage as Ovechkin melted down before their very eyes. Oh, and the kicker here: The Bergeron Line has yet to score a five-on-five goal this series, but again, it's not as if this has been behind much of anything done by Carolina's defense, and Marchand is the one that appears to be melting Carolina down to goo and making 'em eat some gross sandwiches.
The Boston trio also been tasked with making Sebastian Aho disappear, and they did exactly that in Game 2. Given what they've already handled this postseason, from John Tavares to Artemi Panarin, it's hard to imagine Bergeron and Co. suddenly getting toasted by a slight tweak the 'Canes could make to the Aho Line. It's bad news for a Carolina team that's just so incredibly desperate for Aho's offensive to set the tone for the team's production on a nightly basis. It's even worse when you remember how Sean Kuraly's speedy, take-no-prisoners line has handled difficult matchups this spring.
And finding much of anything on the offensive front when Aho is off the ice has become a Carolina urban legend.
Through two games, just four Hurricane forwards have at least three shots on goal at five-on-five. The 'Canes have two goals on those 12 shots, which is an obvious positive, but one is the Tuukka Rask gimme that Tuevo Tervainen accepted in the third period of an obvious blowout, while Justin Williams' double-deflection is the other. Other than that, it's been a big bowl of nothing from Carolina's secondary scorers, especially early-round heroes Jordan Staal and Nino Niederreiter, who have combined for just one assist, three shots, and two penalties through two games this round.
This obviously isn't a recipe for success, especially when the Bruins appear to have something -- and something dominant -- brewing with a third line combination featuring Charlie Coyle between Marcus Johansson and Danton Heinen.
"The more we play together the better it feels," Johansson, who has one goal and four points in under 28 minutes this series, said of the B's third line. "We really trust each other out there and we get to know each other more and more each day."
It's a line that has the finest Hockey IQ you can find from Langley to Weymouth to Landskrona, and one that's presented a boatload of problems for Carolina's active defense with their ability to extend plays, maximize space, and get teammates involved. Look at how Johansson just torched Carolina's porous defense for Boston's third goal on Sunday, or how Heinen's otherworldly board play and smart stick essentially forced an exhausted Justin Williams into the penalty that led to Jake DeBrusk's power-play tally to make it a 2-0 Boston edge after 20 minutes of play on Sunday.
They are an absolute nightmare for the Hurricanes, and a godsend for the top of Boston's roster.
"I think it takes pressure off everyone when they’re doing well," DeBrusk admitted when asked about the lineup-wide production. "Obviously that was our [problem] at the start of the year was depth scoring, it’s coming at the right time."
We haven't even touched on Boston's power play, which has connected for four power-play goals on seven trips to the man advantage (an absurd 57.1 percent success rate) this series, or a second line that suddenly clicks with David Backes riding as the right-side presence next to David Krejci and DeBrusk. And we probably don't need to given the way the 'Canes already seemed overwhelmed with what the Black and Gold have thrown their way through the first two games of this series.
"I think when we’re on our game and skating I think we’re as good as any skating team in this league," Cassidy offered. "We have physical players sprinkled throughout our lineup that can deliver the hits, and we have the Matt Grzelcyk’s of the world that can bounce back off hits that aren’t known as physical guys that can skate, smart, but doesn’t bother him. He’ll bounce back, so I think that bleeds into whatever game’s out there, and we’re going to play it. And hopefully, play it well if you’re executing. Then it comes down to can you execute? Are you focused? Are you making the plays at the right time? So, skating or physical or both. I think Carolina’s both. I think they have a nice blend of that.
"So do we, so it makes for a good matchup."
One that has absolutely favored the Bruins through the first two games of this series.