The Bruins’ Eastern Conference Finals series against the Carolina Hurricanes begins Thursday at 8 p.m. on home ice at TD Garden.
The Bruins defeated the Blue Jackets in six games in the NHL’s second round, while the Hurricanes completed a sweep of the Islanders on May 3. It’s the second playoff series in a row the Bruins have played a team coming off a sweep in the last round.
Here’s what NHL experts are saying about the Bruins’ chances against the Hurricanes:
Emily Kaplan, ESPN: Kaplan predicts the Eastern Conference Finals to go the distance, but she has the Bruins advancing to the Stanley Cup finals in Game 7.
Kaplan splits her assessment of the series into seven distinct categories: first line, depth, defense, goaltending, health, special teams, and coaching.
She awards the Bruins an advantage over Carolina on their first line, goaltending, health, and special teams. The Hurricanes win an advantage on defense, and Kaplan assesses the teams’ depth and coaching as even. Kaplan views the “Bunch of Jerks” as “major disrupters” in the NHL in 2019, but ultimately thinks the playoffs’ upset trend ends with the higher-seeded Bruins advancing.
“Tuukka Rask is playing some of the best hockey of his life. He had a .955 save percentage at even strength in the last four games of the Blue Jackets series, also stopping 26-of-27 high-danger shots (for a .963 save percentage) at even strength in that span,” Kaplan writes. “The Canes have two very capable goaltenders in Petr Mrazek (who started most of the playoffs) and Curtis McElhinney (who closed out the Islanders series when Mrazek was injured). They both have the capacity to lock in and steal a game, but neither is on Rask’s level right now.”
The Hockey News: Bruins in six games.
The Hockey News notes that maybe this surprising conference finals matchup is not so surprising after all. From Jan. 1 through the regular season’s end, the Bruins and Hurricanes were the third and fourth-best teams in the NHL. Though the playoffs have been full of upsets, THN surmises that it’s appropriate two of the league’s best teams in the season’s second-half should compete for a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Concern remains about how the Bruins defense will fare in Game 1 without Charlie McAvoy, but THN expects second-pairing defenseman Brandon Carlo to step up Thursday. The Hurricanes offense has thrived at five-on-five throughout the playoffs, but the Bruins may just be too much everywhere for Carolina.
“Boston finished the regular season with the best record and most points of any team left standing in the post-season. The Bruins have one of the most outstanding top trios in the NHL, a goaltender who is playing arguably his best hockey of the season at exactly the right time, and Boston has proven itself to be one of the league’s best possession teams in the league throughout the regular season and playoffs.”
Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic: Bruins favored over Hurricanes in a near 64-36 split.
Luszczyszyn’s statistical model gives the Bruins a 63.8 percent probability to defeat the Hurricanes. He notes that while the series should not be easy for the Bruins, his model predicts it will be easier for coach Bruce Cassidy’s group than the six games they played in round two or the seven-game series against the Maple Leafs in the first round. Still, he stresses that 64 percent is still nowhere near 100. An upset could happen.
The Hurricanes have played better at five-on-five than any playoff team this spring, but at the moment they benefit from a higher scoring rate and shooting percentage than other playoff teams (9.2 percent compared to an average of 6.8.) On the other side of the coin, the Bruins have struggled converting their strong possession numbers into goals – the Bruins are scoring fewer goals per game in the postseason than they scored in the regular season – but they have played through that problem all year.
“With how good both teams have been defensively all season, the way both goalies are playing, and the unlikelihood that Carolina keeps scoring this often – expect some close, low-scoring tilts,” Luszczyszyn writes.
He also noted that the Bruins carry a lethal power play (scoring on 28.6 percent of chances) against a struggling Hurricanes penalty kill (75 percent.) The Hurricanes’ own power play has scored on just 10.5 percent of its chances in the playoffs.
“Expect the Bruins to play a chippier game in order to create a special teams showdown which they would likely be the benefactors of,” Luszczyszyn writes. “Even if that doesn’t end up being the case, this series should still be Boston’s to lose.”
Joe McDonald and Sara Civian, The Athletic: Keep your eye on those “under-the-radar” players.
McDonald, The Athletic‘s Bruins writer, and Civian, the website’s Hurricanes writer, agreed that the emphasis placed by coaching staffs on line-matching in the postseason sometimes limits team’s best players. Neither the Bruins’ top line nor the Hurricanes’ top players centered by Sebastian Aho have been as dominant as fans may expect. Civian warned that shutdown center Jordan Staal could make scoring hard for the Bruins’ top line, thereby creating necessary goal scoring from depth forwards once more.
McDonald wrote that the Bruins have a staunch advantage at goaltender in this series thanks to Rask’s play as of late. The Hurricanes have featured both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, in the playoffs, and McDonald expects them to see a strong attack from the Bruins.
“Whichever goalie plays for Carolina, he will face a lot of rubber,” he wrote. “The Bruins will attempt to do the same thing against Carolina that they did against Bobrovsky as far as limiting his ability to see the puck. I’m sure that’s a similar game plan to what the Hurricanes will deploy against Rask.”
Jackie Spiegel, Sporting News: Bruins in six.
Sporting News gives the Bruins an advantage on offense, goaltending, and special teams while rating them and the Hurricanes as even on defense.
NHL.com staff: 11 of 15 writers polled pick the Bruins to beat the Hurricanes.
NHL.com predicts the Bruins will play the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final.