Preview: Hurricanes at Bruins
The Carolina Hurricanes once had a heated rivalry with the Boston Bruins, dating to the days when the franchise was located in Hartford, Conn. The upstart Hurricanes will have more than ancient memories on their minds as they prepare to visit Boston in Thursday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, marking the first playoff matchup between the teams since Carolina's last trip to the postseason in 2009.
The Hurricanes, who won 21 of their final 30 games to earn the top wild card in the East, may be underdogs to the second-seeded Bruins but they have rattled off six consecutive wins, sweeping the New York Islanders after stunning defending Stanley Cup champion Washington in seven games. "The journey that we've been on -- and, obviously, the road isn't over -- we're still creating it ourselves," said Carolina captain Justin Williams, who won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. "But it's been quite a change around here certainly in the past few months. Everybody's believing in each other and you see what happens." Boston finished tied for the second-highest point total entering the playoffs but had to come from behind in both series wins, taking the final three games to oust Columbus in the second round after outlasting Toronto in seven games. "We're halfway to our goal. I think you need to relish the plateaus along the way and we're certainly at one of those," Bruins forward David Backes said. "Toronto was a different beast than Columbus was, but they each bring their own challenges and we were able to answer both challenges."
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVAS
ABOUT THE HURRICANES: It may not be a controversy but Carolina has a decision to make in goal after Petr Mrazek was injured in Game 2 against the Islanders and replaced by backup Curtis McElhinney, who posted three wins with a 1.56 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Mrazek said the injury was a non-issue after practicing fully on Monday and Tuesday, and coach Rod Brind'Amour noted that his main concern is to "make sure both guys are 100 percent. That obviously trumps everything." Defenseman Jaccob Slavin has 11 assists to lead Carolina in scoring while Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho and Warren Foegele have nine points each in the playoffs.
ABOUT THE BRUINS: Boston features one of the more imposing top lines in the game in David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, who have combined for 16 goals and 32 points in the postseason and collected 10 points in winning two of three matchups against Carolina this season. However, the Bruins' fortunes will ride on Tuukka Rask, who recorded a .948 save percentage and 1.71 GAA versus Columbus, capping the series with a 39-save shutout. "I think that he was our best player the whole series," Boston captain Zdeno Chara said. "He was the stone at the back end that we rely on every night, and he deserves a lot of credit for the performance he put in those six games."
1. Aho torched Boston for four goals and seven points in the three regular-season meetings.
2. Bruins D Charlie McAvoy will miss Game 1 while serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head.
3. Hurricanes F Micheal Ferland, sidelined since he was hurt in Game 3 of the first round, is expected to play Thursday.
PREDICTION: Bruins 3, Hurricanes 2