Not saying I called it, but I did.
The Bruins-Blue Jackets series was not one to disappoint. Every aspect of this series for both teams was great. Boston finally saw the return of their regular season hero in David Pastrnak, who doubled his goal tally in this series compared to the quarterfinals. He also scored Boston’s GWG in the dying minutes of game five, which was very important to win heading back to Columbus for game six.
Like I said in my previous article, “I’m confident in our defense and goalie to hold off the likes of Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, who have been leading the way for Columbus on offense. What this series is going to come down to, in my opinion, is which team’s goalie plays better, as tough as that is to hear.”
Not only did our goalie play plenty better (will get to that shortly), our defense also played amazingly well to hold off Columbus’ star-powered offense. Columbus managed only 11 goals in this six-game series (1.83 goals/game), while Boston managed 11 goals in the last three games of the series alone, totaling 17 in total (2.83 goals/game).
This disparity had most to do with Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask. This series was memorable for Tuukka, as his stat line is Conn Smythe worthy. Rask managed a 1.71 GAA and a .948SV% in the semifinals, and he’s hoping to keep that momentum rolling into the next series. The icing on the cake for Rask was the amazing 39-save shutout he earned in game six to send the Bruins to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2013.
What should also be noted is Charlie McAvoy’s dangerous hit on Josh Anderson of Columbus, for which he will serve a one game suspension for, even if it didn't appear intentional. Columbus fans (and even Boston fans) were outraged when they found out he only received a two-minute minor penalty, as everyone thought he’d be heading to the locker room. Missing game one of the Eastern Conference Finals will be a big blow to Boston as they have to get a big series opening win without one of their top two defensemen.
It’s time to move on and focus on what’s ahead, and there’s certainly a “storm” brewing. Carolina has been one of the biggest surprises of the playoffs this year, knocking off the defending champs in the first round while sweeping the red-hot Islanders in the second. They’ll be coming into a loud TD Garden game one with cold feet, and just like the beginning of the last series, this is going to have to be a statement game for Boston.
All of the pressure is on Boston, as they should be in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, whereas the underdogs have nothing to lose. Carolina is embracing its underdog and “jerk” status and rallying around it to gain some energy and make a statement.
Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek is playing some great hockey, but I’m not as scared of him as I was of Bobrovsky. Since we managed to crack #72 throughout the series, I’m assuming Mrazek will be no different. I know McElhinney played really well in Mrazek’s absence but I don’t think the Eastern Conference Finals will be a time for Carolina's head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, to test out two goalies. He’ll stick with his #1.
Carolina isn’t overly loaded on offense or defensively sound, they are just an amazingly consistent team with a very good coach. Brind’Amour is going to try and exploit Bruins weakness that most teams haven’t been able to figure out in seven games or less. If the Hurricanes can't find a weakness, I think they will be in for a rough series and are going to need to really rely on their stars like Aho, Teravainen, and Hamilton on defense.
Still, I don’t believe that will be enough to bolster Boston’s deep defensive core. When any three of our defensive-pairings are on the ice, I am just as confident as I am with the others. I am a big fan of Clifton and Grzelcyk, and I think even with the suspension of McAvoy, the Bruins are certainly the better team. However, as we’ve clearly seen, that can sometimes mean nothing during playoff hockey.
MY PREDICTION: Boston in 6