The second round for the Eastern Conference in the National Hockey League playoffs didn’t have the upsets the first round did, but did have surprises and intensity. After playing the equivalent of three games in the first two, Boston took control after losing Game Three in Columbus, with their stars stepping up and suffocating Columbus’ offense in Games Five and Six. As for the Carolina Hurricanes, despite losing Petr Mrazek in Game Two, were aggressive and punished the Islanders every chance they got. They were able to get into Robin Lehner’s head in Game Four and scored three times before he was pulled midway into the second period, cementing a sweep. So which team will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup? Time for the prediction.
First Round Predictions in the East: 2-2
#3 Boston Bruins v. #7/WC1 Carolina Hurricanes
It’s fitting this is the matchup. While it’s not what anyone expected, both teams’ rosters are focused around being close on and off the ice. Both are physical and rely on defense. Both play with passion and know when to step their games up, especially in third periods. Tuukka Rask wants to start and win a Cup badly. The Canes haven’t gone nor been in a Conference Final since 2009, and they had some extra rest.
Two big things stand out in this matchup: Goaltending and home ice. Rask has gotten better especially in the later rounds of the first two series. It’s been the opposite for Carolina, where Mrazek was hurt in Game Two against the Isles. Curtis McElhinney, who’s 35 years old, played most of the second round and led the Canes to a sweep. Carolina’s defense helped McElhinney quite a bit, but he was fluid and flexible on the ice and showed up when it mattered most. As of when this post was published, NHL.com said Mrazek will probably start the first game in Boston.
The Hurricanes have gone 5-0 at home in the playoffs, all of those wins coming against the top two teams in the Metropolitan division, the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders. The home crowd has had an impact but this is where the Hurricanes have played their best hockey. It’s quite possible they win all their home games against Boston and push this to seven. The Bruins played their cards right and did well on the road in the first two series, losing the first road game in both and then going 2-0 after. Carolina feels different than in both Toronto (a more confident and balanced team) and Columbus (first time the Jackets reached the second round in franchise history). If Rask gets hot after Game Three with a stellar game four, this series will make it easier to pick.
Conference Final Prediction: Bruins win series 4-3