There is always some hatred that builds up during the course of a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series, but at least for now the Bruins and Hurricanes are showing nothing but respect for each other. To quote Roberto Luongo from 2011, you might say they're even pumping each other's tires.
It started Monday morning when Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour made it sound like the Hurricanes are getting ready to face the Soviet Red Army team when asked what his team has learned since getting swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
"I would hope we’ve grown a lot," Brind'Amour said. "What did we learn last year? We learned that they’re one of the best teams for a reason. There’s no weaknesses, and they’ve proved it again all year this year. I think it’s great that we get a chance to play them technically in the first round. You might as well get at the best right away. There’s no point in waiting for it. What’d we learn? We learned that that’s a great team. Like I said, there’s no weaknesses. So we’re going to have to be sharp, no doubt."
"They all defend," he added. "They’ve got a great system and when they do have occasional breakdowns, they’ve got great goaltending. They have a secret to success for sure, play the right way. And then their special teams are super special. When you have that cooking for you, it’s a good recipe. Last year, I think we learned about special teams and their power play was so potent and it still is. So that’s going to be a big concern. Overall, I think there’s no weaknesses. So you’re talking about defense, great, they can do that. You talk about the high-end talent and the grind game, they have all of it. That’s why they were the best team this year."
Asked for his response, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy thanked his Carolina counterpart.
"Thanks Rod, we appreciate it," Cassidy said. "We always like to be thought of in that regard around the league."
As Cassidy went on to point out, though, none of that means a whole lot now. Since arriving in Toronto, the Bruins have not looked like "the best team" or a team with "no weaknesses" or a team with "super special" special teams.
Instead, they've lost all four games they've played (three round-robin games and an exhibition), and their power play that was dominant last postseason and during the regular season went 0-for-9.
"That was a lot of what happened last year and probably earlier this year," Cassidy said. "Right now, we’re not too focused on anything good or bad said about us, to be honest. We’re trying to get our own game in order. We feel we’ve made steps each night, so we’ll see where that brings us tomorrow."
Cassidy does think there could be some carry-over from last year's series, especially since both teams have the same coaching staffs, same systems and a lot of the same players. So the Bruins will try to do some of the same things that made them successful last year.
"As for last year, same coaching staff on both sides. A lot of the same players," Cassidy said. "You can see some tendencies from last year will probably bleed into this year's series. For us, we’ve felt that when we were able to counter Carolina’s puck pressure with good support, good execution and good decision making, that’s when we were at our best in that series. That’ll be our game plan going in. We saw a lot of that against the Rangers, that style of play. I don’t think they’ve changed a lot there. Again, it comes down to making the right plays at the right time against that pressure. Who wins those battles on the walls? Who wins the foot races to loose pucks in the neutral zone when you do battle it out?
"Last year our power play was really good against Carolina, helped us a lot. Particularly in Game 1 in the third period, we got on the board a couple times. It helped us win games. That’s something that is going to be a big X-factor in this series. Can we replicate that success? So that’s something that is a bit of an unknown because we – in the round robin we didn’t have a lot of success on it. We didn’t have a lot of opportunity to build it, especially with certain guys out of the lineup in practice, so that’s one area that we’re going to have to be cleaner and sharper on to help us battle through the days we’re not getting five-on-five scoring."
One of the keys for both teams will be containing the other team's top line, which may be decided in a head-to-head matchup for much of the series. Last year the Bruins' top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak won that battle against Carolina's trio of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, forcing Brind'Amour to split up that line during Game 2 and try something else for the remainder of the series.
Both of those lines are in different spots now, though. While the Bergeron line was once again arguably the best line in the league in the regular season, they combined for zero goals and one assist in the Bruins' three round-robin games. Svechnikov, Aho and Teravainen, meanwhile, combined for seven goals and 15 points in a three-game sweep of the Rangers in the play-in round.
"They’re really well connected," Cassidy said of Carolina's top line. "They remind me of our – you know, when Bergeron’s line is going. They can turn away from pressure and they don’t need a lot of time to find each other. Seem to have that sixth sense on the ice of where they’re going to be and that probably comes with repetition, being good players. They have it seems like a good balance of size with Svechnikov. Aho kind of dishes and passes. Teravainen is more of a guy that looks to thread the needle but certainly has some speed to back you off.
"They’re going to be a handful, just like our guys are when they’re going. You have to limit their touches. You have to close on them quickly when you can. And do damage control by not giving them easy chances off the rush. That’s what I’ve always found against good offensive lines. You have to make them work for every inch of the ice and if they’re willing to do that and have success doing that, then you have to tip your hat to them."