Whenever someone asks me which team will give the Bruins the greatest difficulty in the postseason, I say Carolina by default.
How could it not be the Hurricanes? Sure, they wouldn’t have home-ice advantage in a playoff meeting, but the Hurricanes can puff their chests more than any other opponent when the Bruins hit town.
When the Bruins lost, 4-1, at PNC Arena on Jan. 29, they were playing their fourth road game in six nights. They were on a 1-3-1 skid, the only time this season they have lost four of five. But the score just added to the lopsidedness of the recent series.
The Bruins’ most recent win in Raleigh came on May 16, 2019, when Tuukka Rask & Co. finished a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals with a 4-0 shutout. Since then, the Bruins have lost six games in a row in Raleigh, by a combined score of 25-7.
The closest of those games was last year’s Game 7, a 3-2 loss. Each of the other five losses was by at least three goals. Recall that the teams didn’t play each other in the shortened 2021 season. In August 2020, the Bruins faced the Hurricanes in a first-round series in the Toronto bubble.
The Hurricanes, who host the Maple Leafs Saturday night, are 46-16-8 and the second team to 100 points this year. They are 3-4-0 in their last seven, with losses to Toronto and New Jersey and a split with the Rangers.
Given how smoothly the Bruins break out when they’re on, they should be able to handle Rod Brind’Amour’s NASCAR-pace forecheck, which is highly successful in limiting chances. Carolina is No. 1 by a wide margin in shot attempts against (24.4 per 60 minutes) and scoring chances against (21.7) at five on five. Only the Bruins (96) have allowed fewer five-on-five goals than the Hurricanes (117).
I still get a few emails per week worrying about the Bruins’ potential weaknesses. If they grab a win in Raleigh, it would check one of the few remaining boxes.
▪ That said, Sunday’s game at PNC Arena (5 p.m.) could be a chance for Jim Montgomery to rest a few veterans.
If they play Saturday against the Lightning, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, and Pavel Zacha will have played in every game this season. Hampus Lindholm has missed one.
Since returning from offseason shoulder surgery Nov. 10, Charlie McAvoy has played in every game. Brad Marchand, who missed seven of the first eight games after double hip surgery, has suited up every night since. And David Krejci, whom Montgomery described as “banged up” last week, has played in all but five games this year.
▪ Now is the time when traveling hockey writers ruminate on which playoff cities they might visit. The Bruins’ path through the East looks nearly set: a first-round matchup against the Islanders, Penguins, or Panthers; a potential second-round date with the Maple Leafs or Lightning; and a would-be conference final against the Rangers, Devils, or Hurricanes.
It sure does look like Buffalo, Ottawa, and Washington are out of the wild-card race. Am I canceling my hotel reservations in those cities? Oh no, friend. Doing that would be akin to putting away the shovel and breaking out the air conditioning units.
▪ A recent call for mail-bag questions returned some discussion of fringe topics. To wit: the present and futures of Jakub Lauko and Jakub Zboril, and which Providence players could make an impact this spring.
To the latter point: none of them. It’s hard enough for Lauko, Zboril, or A.J. Greer to crack this lineup.
A casual chat with Lauko last week gave me the impression that he understands the situation is a tough one; at best, he’s the 14th forward on the deepest team in the league. He would much rather be a part of the mix here than play every night in the AHL. He could get some run this weekend.
Patience is the key for Zboril, who has been aggressive and assertive and has a pair of assists in his last two games and finally has some of his own game film to study with assistant coach John Gruden. Before playing in two of the last three — Derek Forbort’s injury the catalyst for that — the defenseman had played in three games since Nov. 13.
“His attitude’s been incredible while he wasn’t playing a lot,” Montgomery said after Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Canadiens. “Now it’s, we’re going to get you ramped up, we’re going to get you some hockey games, you need to build your game.”
▪ The Bruins again will be in position to clinch the Atlantic Division Saturday. A combination of a Bruins win (against the Lightning, 1 p.m.) and a Maple Leafs regulation loss (at the Hurricanes, 7 p.m.) would do the trick.
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.