BOSTON – The Bruins are flat-out overwhelming the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.
It’s coming from a lot of different places as Tuukka Rask is a far better goaltender than Petr Mrazek and his .808 save percentage through the first two games in this series. And Brad Marchand humbled Game 7 hero and Hurricanes captain Justin Williams by suckering him into taking a penalty and then mocking him with a captain’s “C’ hand gesture and pointed directions toward the penalty box. The Bruins scored a goal on that power play, by the way, to give them a 4-0 lead en route to the 6-2 blowout win over the Hurricanes in Game 2 at TD Garden.
But it’s the depth of Boston’s roster that’s steamrolling the Hurricanes in the series, and it’s been obvious in both games. The Bruins got three goals from their bottom-pairing defensemen, three assists from their third-line center Charlie Coyle and seven overall points from the third line while showing quite simply that their roster is far superior to a Carolina team that’s obviously not ready for prime time quite yet.
“I think this year because we’ve scored a lot more up and down the line it’s just a little easier to roll lines and look for your matchup, but roll lines and not have to over-extend skill guys. I think any team that advances generally gets some level of that where everybody’s contributing, where someone steps up in a different night. You’re not relying on one area, and we’ve definitely got that,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked about his team’s lineup depth. “I mean, the Charlie Coyle line right now creates a big problem I think for the other team. Okay, you’ve got Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] line right out of the gate. You’ve got [David] Krejci, who’s a known playoff scorer now with [Jake] DeBrusk.
“Now you’ve got a third line to deal with, so usually getting your D-pairs out there it’s a lot of work to play against, you know, if you want to play your top pair against two of those three lines. So, it’s a big ask, and I think that’s a difficult ask as well, so it’s benefited us a lot.”
It’s all backed up by the numbers, of course. Rookie D-man Connor Clifton scored one of the two first-period goals to get the Bruins out on top early on a beautiful play where he had a wide open shot at the net after a Marcus Johansson bid got deflected to him. Clifton became the 19th different goal-scorer for the Bruins this postseason, which matches the franchise record set back in 1988 when the Bruins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the mighty Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers.
That’s as foolproof a piece of evidence as one is going to find of Boston’s depth, which was able to match the depth thrown at them by Toronto and Columbus in the first two rounds, but is clearly too much for a Carolina team that stumbled their way into an unexpected Conference Final berth.
Obviously the job done by Cassidy and his coaching staff is a big part of deploying said roster depth by rolling four lines. Fourth-line center Sean Kuraly led all Bruins centers in ice time (16:26) in the Game 2 win, and has been a significant force since coming back into the lineup midway through the Toronto series.
But it’s also a tip of the cap to Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who brought in Johansson and Coyle to little fanfare at the NHL trade deadline. Those two have transformed the Bruins third line from a low-scoring afterthought to a legit weapon in these playoffs, and they’ve really taken over the first few games of the Conference Final.
It certainly conjures up recent memories of the 2011 Bruins third line engineered at the NHL trade deadline when Chris Kelly and Rick Peverley were brought in to join Michael Ryder, but this third line might even be a little more offensively dangerous trio driven by the strong, skilled Coyle.
“The guys are coming to play at the right time. Depth scoring is so crucial for playoffs. Most of the time when you see a matchup, the two big lines are going head to head, that kind of washes each other out typically over a series and then you have the depth scoring that comes into play and that’s what wins you games and series so we have it right now,” said Torey Krug. “We want to bottle that up and continue to use it to our advantage.
“I said it all along that if we were going to make it and go on a run, it was going to be those bottom two lines that feed energy into this team and score big timely goals and we’re going to need that going forward.”
Coyle and Johansson have combined for nine goals and 21 points in 28 games in this playoff run, and even more importantly have been scoring when Boston’s big guns have gone quiet at times in the playoffs. We’ll all find out if Patrice Bergeron was playing hurt during this postseason, but the emergence of the Weymouth-born Coyle as a big-bodied horse at the center position has been a key to withstanding that kind of adversity within a deep playoff run. That’s about building a deep, multi-faceted and dangerous roster that’s tough to defend, and that’s exactly what the Black and Gold are right now.
And a Hurricanes group with some top-end talent like Sebastian Aho and Jaccob Slavin just doesn’t have enough right to now to hang with them, and it’s showing in the results in what’s looking it’s going to be a short series for the Bruins.
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