Phil Stacey On Hockey: Do the Bruins have enough to reverse regular season foibles vs. Hurricanes? | Sports

BOSTON – For starters, they figure to score more than one goal over the course of the series.

Start there if you’re looking for positives as the Bruins begin the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs Monday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh against the favored Carolina Hurricanes, who completely bludgeoned Boston in three regular season games this season by outscoring them, 16-1.

It’s been nearly three full months since they’ve met, and there have been a lot of changes since then. But are those enough to tip the scales in Boston’s favor and produce a first round upset?

If you take the Bing Crosby and The Andrews ‘sisters route -‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive … ‘ – you can logically make a case for the Bruins to beat Carolina four times in a seven-game span and advance.

They’ve been one of the best teams in the NHL since January 1st with a 37-16-3 mark; their 77 points during that span trailing only Stanley Cup favorites Colorado (83) and Florida (78). They’ve added an impact defenseman in first pairing guy Hampus Lindholm, a left-shot blueliner who forms a dynamic top unit with Charlie McAvoy.

David Pastrnak, like Lindholm, has returned from an injury that caused him to miss eight games in April. He might still be working his way back into top form – or, he might not ever approach top form again in 2021-22 – but just having him back firing bombs from the off-wing on the top power play unit while spearheading the second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula is a huge lift.

Jake DeBrusk, a malcontented anchor for the first half of the season, finished the year with 25 goals, tied with captain Patrice Bergeron for third on the team. Aside from a few now-familiar dry spells, he’s been a solid fit at top line right wing alongside Brad Marchand and Bergeron, allowing Pastrnak to add much needed scoring to the second unit.

For the first time since 2004, the Bruins will head into the postseason without either Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask in net – but that appears to be OK. Linus Ullmark, whose red-hot play over the last month-plus has earned him the Game 1 start Monday, and rookie Jeremy Swayman played 41 regular season games, each made 39 starts, and won 26 and 23 games between them. They’ll almost certainly both share the cage at some point in the playoffs, and the Bruins are good with that.

Take a look across the sheet at the other net, and Carolina could without the services of injured Frederik Andersen. He was brilliant both against the Bruins (3-0, 0.33 GAA, .990 save points) and the entire NHL this season (35-14-3, 2.17 GAA, .922 save points), but the 32-year- old hasn’t played in more than two weeks after suffering a lower body injury against the Avalanche.

When, and if, Andersen will be back is anyone’s guess; Carolina will be forced to ride with backup Antti Raanta and, if necessary, third stringer Pyotr Kochetkov, who played the majority of this season in the KHL.

But there are areas in which the Hurricanes remain superior to the Bruins. Speed, depth, scoring balance, youth, momentum (8-2 in their last 10), and home ice advantage all favor the No. 2 seed.

Regular season woes against them aside, Boston is certainly capable of defeating the Hurricanes for the third time in the last four playoffs; they didn’t win 51 games and earn 107 points by accident. But in an exceptionally deep Eastern Conference, where all eight playoff participants had north of 100 points and can make a legitimate claim to emerging from the morass to play for the Cup, it will be an uphill climb for the Black-and-Gold.

Can they win the series? Of course. But WILLIAM they win the series? I wouldn’t bet an O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card on it.

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Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com and on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.

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