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And now the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves on the other side of the rust-vs.-rest debate.
The Hurricanes went into the second round less than 48 hours after their double-overtime Game 7 win over the Washington Capitals and proceeded to sweep the New York Islanders, who had been off for 10 days after a sweep of their own.
Going into Thursday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at the Boston Bruins, the Hurricanes were five days removed from their last game, the Bruins three. That’s not a huge difference in time, but there is a difference in playing four games instead of six in the last round, and 11 total instead of the Bruins’ 13.
Or is there?
“I would have said that last series with us,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I was worried we were going to be the ones tired and the other team was sitting around and it didn’t work out that way.”
After sweeping the Islanders, the Hurricanes took two days off completely and practiced for three days in Raleigh, much-needed time to regroup, try to fix the power play and let the wounded and injured rest. Jordan Martinook needed it, Micheal Ferland was possible Thursday for the first time since Game 3 of the first round and Saku Maenalanen was back practicing after hand surgery 10 days ago.
“We’ve been off for a while,” Hurrricanes center Jordan Staal said. “We’re going to have to get after it in the first period and get physical and get our legs going. … We had a few dinged up guys and guys healed up pretty well over the little break there. In general, we’re chomping at the bit to get going and excited about the series and the job ahead of us.”
The Bruins, meanwhile, were already looking forward to the two-day break between Game 1 on Thursday and Game 2 on Sunday – the NHL finally got around to announcing the full series schedule just before midnight Wednesday – in hopes of getting forward Noel Acciari back and resting defensemen Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo, expected to carry a heavy load in the absence of the suspended Charlie McAvoy.
“The day off for us Friday will be good,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We had a tough seven-game, six-game (series), it’s nice to get right back in it, the swing of things. I hope that’s an edge for us because they haven’t played. Who knows how it will play out. But we also could use some rest somewhere. The last series, we got it after Game 2, I think. We need that.”
BEST AGAINST BEST The key matchup of the series may be the Bruins’ high-scoring top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak against Carolina’s best defensive line of Jordan Staal, Justin Williams and Nino Niederreiter and, presumably, Jaccob Slavin whenever possible.
Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have combined for 16 goals and 32 points in 13 games, 40 percent of the Bruins’ playoff goals. Staal and his linemates and Slavin didn’t really have a similar test in the second round, but drew heavy duty against Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson in the first round.
The Bruins’ top line presents different challenges than the Capitals’, but is just as productive and dangerous, maybe even more so at even strength.
“Obviously a talented line,” Staal said. “Just like any top line, you try to take away time and space and play in their end and make them play defense and all those things. We’re going to try to keep them off the scoreboard the best we can.”
The Hurricanes’ reconfigured forward lines appear constituted to deal with that line on the road, with the third line of Lucas Wallmark, Warren Foegele and Brock McGinn also capable of playing against the Bergeron line. That’s similar to what Brind’Amour did late in Game 7 against Washington, putting two defensive-minded lines together to neutralize the Capitals’ attempts to find matchups for the Ovechkin line.