Hurricanes’ Cup dreams start with Game 1 vs. Boston

Carolina hosts the Bruins looking to avenge two past playoff eliminations

Nino Niederreiter and the Hurricanes' quest for the Stanley Cup begins Monday when Carolina hosts Boston in Game 1 of their seven-game series at PNC Arena. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes and Bruins have played just three times, all this season, since late August 2020.

That doesn’t mean the two teams are unfamiliar with each other.

Carolina and Boston will kick off their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series Monday at PNC Arena, renewing a rivalry that started in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and resumed this season with the Hurricanes dominating the Bruins in their regular season meetings.

Those results — 3-0, 7-1 and 6-0 Carolina wins — won’t mean anything when the puck drops between teams with a long history.

It goes back to well before Rod Brind’Amour took over as Hurricanes coach and even before there was NHL hockey in Raleigh, back when the Whalers served as New England’s younger brother to the Original Six Bruins.

But none of that past — not Boston’s six Stanley Cups, the Bruins’ two recent eliminations of Carolina in the postseason nor the three games the Hurricanes won this season — should factor into what happens when the puck drops Monday night at PNC Arena.

“I’m not sure the past really matters all that much when you talk about it,” Brind’Amour said over the weekend. “I think it helps our group just because we’ve had — whether they were the teams that have knocked us out or not— we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to.

“And I think the experience of that (matters) more than actually who you were playing. But I’m sure there’s a little more incentive there knowing that those guys ended our season twice.”

Forward Andrei Svechnikov, who was part of the Bruins’ 2019 sweep and injured during the 2020 series, does think facing Boston can add a bit more juice to the series.

“For sure. We lost against them a couple of times, and obviously it’s kind of extra motivation,” Svechnikov said.

But the fact is, these Bruins aren’t clones of the teams that eliminated Carolina in 2019 and 2020.

Many of the key pieces are still in Boston: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy all remain.

But a lot are gone too, most noticeably Zdeno Chara.

A look back at Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final shows a Boston roster that, like many in the league, has turned over quite a bit in the last three years.

David Backes has been replaced with a different veteran forward in Nick Foligno. Defenseman Torey Krug is gone, but Hampus Lindholm — a trade deadline acquisition — now slots on the top pair with McAvoy.

Former Hurricanes forward Joakim Nordstrom and depth players Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly are elsewhere, replaced in part by players like Curtis Lazar and Trent Frederic.

Then there’s David Krejci, the most unheralded player from this era’s Bruins, who retired from the NHL to play back home in Czechia. In his place is another former Carolina player, Erik Haula.

And don’t forget former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall and sneaky depth scorer Craig Smith. Either could make a difference in a tight series.

The biggest absence, of course, is Tuukka Rask. The Finnish goalie attempted a Justin Williams-like midseason comeback for one final run, but four lackluster appearances in January — including one at home against Carolina that saw him pulled after allowing five goals in the first period — put an end to his efforts.

That leaves Boston with Linus Ullmark, their Game 1 starter, and rookie Jeremy Swayman. Carolina counters with Antti Raanta in net Monday with their own rookie, Pyotr Kochetkov, backing up.

None of the four have started a playoff game before.

“That’s odd, isn’t it?” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after Monday’s morning skate. “We have an experienced playoff team and so does Carolina, yet none of the goalies are — maybe the most important position in the playoffs.”

“So they’re gonna have to get into it, right? I think the goalie that adjusts to whatever they’re going through the quickest will probably be better tonight. Doesn’t mean they will be the next night.”

Outside of the goaltending, the key to the series — and really any series — will be special teams.

The Hurricanes finished the regular season with a league-best 88% penalty kill and 13th-ranked power play (22.0%).

The Bruins ranked 15th on the power play (21.2%) and ninth on the PK (81.3%).

Boston’s power play famously dismantled Carolina in 2019, scoring seven times in 15 opportunities, and followed that up with five goals in 19 chances in 2020 — a combined 35.3% success rate. It was more of the same last season when Tampa Bay went 7 of 16 in eliminating the Hurricanes in five games.

The Hurricanes scored just three times in 29 power play chances (10.3%) in those two series against Boston and were nearly as bad against the Lightning (2 of 14, 14.2%).

So while the power play will need to be better to beat the Bruins, it’s the penalty kill that needs to show it can come through against Boston’s veteran group.

“If you really look back at it, if you want to go back, that’s why we didn’t advance,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s as simple as that. Their power play took over and we took too many penalties. So hopefully that doesn’t happen, taking penalties, and it’s a little more evenly matched that way and then we’ll see.”

The Hurricanes overhauled their roster in the offseason and had a record-breaking regular season. But that will all be forgotten if the result is an early playoff exit.

A team that won 54 of its 82 games now needs 16 more victories to reach its ultimate objective.

“There’s the one goal at the end of this, and you gotta go through any team that’s in it to get there,” forward Jordan Martinook said Monday. “So it doesn’t really matter who’s in front of us.”