The Boston Bruins, riding a three-game winning streak and boosted by the resurgence of goaltender Tuukka Rask, appear to have hit their stride heading into the Eastern Conference finals.
Their opponent seems more than equipped to match that momentum.
The Carolina Hurricanes carry a season-high six-game winning streak into Game 1 in Boston on Thursday.
The Hurricanes rallied to win the last two games of their first-round series against the defending champion Washington Capitals before dominating the New York Islanders in a four-game sweep in the second round. Carolina has reached the conference finals in each of its past four playoff trips, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final twice.
“It is a whole different animal, as you can see, the NHL playoffs,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams told reporters recently. “It’s just go, go, go, and who’s playing best right now, and obviously both teams are playing well to be here.”
The Bruins came back from a 2-1 series deficit against the Columbus Blue Jackets on their way to advancing to a third conference final this decade. In the deciding Game 6, Rask carried the team with a 39-save shutout to cap a round in which he sported a 1.71 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.
“He was definitely our most consistent player throughout the whole series,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy told the media. “He was there every night. He certainly deserves whatever accolades come to him.”
The Bruins, assured home-ice advantage throughout their playoff run, will take a hit in Game 1 with the absence of defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who was suspended one game as the result of an illegal check to the head of Columbus forward Josh Anderson in Monday’s Game 6. McAvoy has a goal and five assists in averaging nearly 25 minutes per game for Boston this postseason.
Either John Moore (upper body) or Kevan Miller (lower body) could take McAvoy’s place, with Bruins general manager Don Sweeney providing positive injury updates on each player Tuesday while ruling neither out.
On the other side, the Hurricanes could reap the benefits of having not played since Friday. Goaltender Petr Mrazek was back at practice Monday after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 2 against the Islanders and missing the remainder of the series. Mrazek has a 2.22 GAA, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in nine starts this postseason. Backup Curtis McElhinney closed the series in his stead.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour wouldn’t tip his hand as to who will get the nod in Game 1.
“Whatever way we go, we’re going to be happy with it,” Brind’Amour said.
Carolina could also get forward Micheal Ferland (upper body) back to begin the series. Ferland, who last played April 15 against Washington, told reporters he would be “shocked” if he isn’t in the lineup.
The Bruins and Hurricanes met three times during the regular season, with Boston winning twice. The Bruins’ one loss, however, came with Rask in net, a 5-3 defeat on Dec. 23.
David Pastrnak leads the Bruins in postseason scoring with six goals, including four in his last five games. He is tied with Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen for most playoff goals in the East.
Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho had four goals and three assists in the three regular-season meetings with Boston.