Just four more wins separate the Bruins from playing in the Stanley Cup Final. But to do that, they’ll have to defeat a Carolina team that rolled into the Eastern Conference finals, sweeping the New York Islanders in the second round after upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round.
We asked Bruins beat writer Matt Porter and NHL columnist Kevin Paul Dupont to rank the top 10 players in this Eastern Conference final series. They were mostly in synch, with a few exceptions.
Here’s how they see it:
Matt Porter’s Top 10
1. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston
2. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston
3. Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina
4. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston
5. Sebastian Aho, RW, Carolina
6. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston
7. David Pastrnak, RW, Boston
8. David Krejci, C, Boston
9. Teuvo Teravainen, C, Carolina
10. Jordan Staal, C, Carolina
Kevin Paul Dupont’s Top 10
1. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston
2. Sebastian Aho, RW, Carolina
3. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston
4. Petr Mrazek, G, Carolina
5. Brad Marchand, LW, Boston
6. Dougie Hamilton, D, Carolina
7. Teuvo Teravainen, C, Carolina
8. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston
9. Sean Kuraly, F, Boston
10. Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina
The lists were similar, with eight players appearing on both. Here is a closer look at all 12 mentioned as key figures:
Sebastian Aho: The 21-year-old had a breakout year in his third season in the NHL, posting a line of 30-53—83 to help get the Hurricanes to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. He was selected in the second round of the 2015 draft, 35th overall. The Bruins had picks 13, 14, and 15 that year, taking Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn.
Patrice Bergeron: After sustaining an early-season injury (rib and sternoclavicular) that limited him to 65 games, the veteran returned to the lineup before the Winter Classic to center the first line and bounced back to post a 32-47—79 line. He broke through for a pair of goals in Game 4 at Columbus to allow the Bruins to pull even in the series.
Dougie Hamilton: Thought to be the heir to Zdeno Chara as a franchise defenseman with the Bruins, Hamilton has not exactly blossomed into a No. 1 blue liner since being traded to Calgary in 2015. Last summer, the Flames shipped him to Carolina, where he is not expected to carry the load, playing alongside Jaccob Slavin.
David Krejci: The veteran center may fly under the radar a bit on the second line, but there’s no overlooking his contributions in the postseason, where he has a 36-61—97 line in 121 games with the Bruins. He overcame a crushing hit in Game 1 against Columbus to return for Game 2, and scored a goal in each of the last two games as the Bruins took control of the series.
Sean Kuraly: The forward missed the first four games of the postseason as he recovered from a broken hand, but he has scored two goals in nine games since returning to the lineup, including Game 4 against Columbus to help secure a win.
Brad Marchand: The high-scoring forward has five goals and eight assists this postseason — second most in the NHL — with four tallies coming in the first round against Toronto. He avoided discipline after he punched Columbus defenseman Scott Harrington in the back of the head in Game 3, and has been unusually curt with the media in recent days. Bruins fans won’t mind as long as he continues to produce on the ice.
Charlie McAvoy: The young defenseman stepped up his game against Columbus, offering defensive support for Chara and getting more offensive. His presence will be missed in Game 1 when he serves a suspension for a hit to head on Columbus’s Josh Anderson.
Petr Mrazek: After posting a 23-14-3 record with a .914 save percentage in 40 starts in the regular season, the goalie started the first nine games of the postseason, including all seven in the first-round upset of the Capitals. He was injured in Game 2 of the second round against the Islanders and did not return for the rest of the series, but has been practicing this week and is expected to be ready for Game 1.
David Pastrnak: It’s been a mixed bag of a postseason for Pastrnak, who has struggled with puck possession. His power-play goal 3:33 into Game 4 against Columbus helped set the tone as the Bruins crawled back into the series. He added two more in Game 5, including the game-winner.
Tuukka Rask: The veteran goalie stole the spotlight from Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in the second round, closing out the Blue Jackets with a shutout in Game 6. He has a .938 save percentage and is at the top of his game.
Jaccob Slavin: Carolina’s top defenseman is also its leading point-getter in the postseason, registering 11 assists in 11 games.
Jordan Staal: The veteran forward is still getting it done for the Hurricanes, centering their second line. A concussion limited him to 50 games during the regular season, but he finished up strong and has a 4-5—9 line in 11 playoff games.
Teuvo Teravainen: The young forward was the second-leading scorer for the Hurricanes (21-55—76) and brings playoff experience, having played on the Chicago Blackhawks team that captured the Stanley Cup in 2015.