Hurricanes and Bruins, together again on the 9s, like traffic and weather

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Canes, Bruins set for Game 1 in Boston

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who played his first three NHL seasons for the Boston Bruins, talks about the challenge of facing them in the Eastern Conference finals after Canes practice May 8, 2019.

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who played his first three NHL seasons for the Boston Bruins, talks about the challenge of facing them in the Eastern Conference finals after Canes practice May 8, 2019.

The last time Rod Brind’Amour was getting ready for the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, he was trying figure out how to handle Patrice Bergeron in the faceoff circle and find a way past Zdeno Chara to the net.

Ten years later, Brind’Amour doesn’t have to worry about doing either of those things himself. The rest of it remains more or less the same.

“I certainly know them,” said Brind’Amour, the Carolina Hurricanes’ captain then and coach now. “They were good then. They’re even better now. Chara was right in the heat of the prime of his career and Bergeron was just getting going. That team’s been good for a long time.”

The challenge has and hasn’t changed for the Hurricanes this time around, even if the captain has become the coach. The Bruins are again heavily favored and retain the last vestiges of the core that lost in seven games to the Hurricanes in the second round 2009 and won the Stanley Cup in 2011 but hasn’t been this far in the playoffs since 2013.

A glacial epoch has passed here since then, coaches and general managers coming and going like airport shuttle buses, but so much remains the same in Boston. From 2009, that includes the still-ticking Bergeron and still-captain Chara as well as David Krejci, but it also extends to the players who have been a part of the success since, from persistent and newly petulant pest Brad Marchand – the opponent-licking, head-punching, stick-stomping agitator, now with added surliness toward the media – to goalie Tuukka Rask, a prospect-in-waiting in 2009, the backbone in 2019.

CANES2BOS3.SP.050309.CCS.jpg The Carolina Hurricanes’ Rod Brind’Amour (17) moves the puck against the Boston Bruins’ Mark Stuart (45) during first period action of Game 2 of an NHL playoff between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Boston Bruins at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, MA on Sunday May 3, 2009. staff/Chris Seward Chris Seward Staff photo by Chris Seward

Some of the names have certainly changed – exit Phil Kessel scoring on the wing, enter David Pastrnak; exit Claude Julien behind the bench, enter Bruce Cassidy – but the Bruins are still the Bruins, built bigger and stronger than the Hurricanes, with a high-powered top line that will be difficult to stop. They’ll miss the suspended Charlie McAvoy in Game 1 – the two-way defenseman taken the pick after the Hurricanes took Jake Bean in 2016, with 146 more NHL regular-season and playoff games to his credit – but their style won’t change.

At times, the first few games of the Bruins’ second-round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets looked like those teams were playing a different sport than the Hurricanes, until those teams started to wear down and the Hurricanes dialed up the physicality in the final game against the New York Islanders. The Hurricanes will have to bring that same edge in this series, which may take on the aura of a throwback Adams Division rematch.

The Hurricanes had mostly shed their Hartford Whalers DNA until this year’s rowdy revival, but the franchises’ tangled history – briefly sharing Boston Garden as the WHA’s New England Whalers before co-existing for years in the same division and essentially the same regional market – seems to persist in the way the Bruins keep popping up in the playoffs every 10 years: the first round in 1999, the second round in 2009, the conference finals in 2019.

Yet again, it’s the Bruins and Hurricanes together on the 9s, like traffic and weather. Winner gets the Glen Wesley Trophy.

These odd reconvergences tend to happen in hockey. The Hurricanes have made the playoffs in six seasons in North Carolina and played the New Jersey Devils in four of those. The two series against the Montreal Canadiens, four years apart, both ended up being almost apocalyptic in their drama and emotion. The Bruins again resurface at a pivotal moment in this franchise’s history.

That first series helped announce the Hurricanes’ presence in North Carolina, albeit quietly, since it was played in Greensboro, the merciful final games played in Greensboro.

The second represented the last triumph of the spine of the 2002 and 2006 teams, taking on new meaning when that group flubbed its last shot in 2011.

This meeting could potentially herald the ascension of a new challenger for Eastern Conference supremacy, if this truly is an up-and-coming team’s path forward and not merely a one-off born of a complacent defending champion and a team maintaining playoff intensity sweeping a rusty one.

Time will tell on that last part, whether the Hurricanes get past the Bruins or not, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve all been here before, even if we don’t know how it ends.

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