It‘s Bruins/Whalers, another classic Adams Division rivalry rekindled in this 2009 playoff season. In their last series, the B’s beat the Habs in the playoffs for only the eighth time in 32 attempts. When it comes to Bruins vs. Whalers/Hurricanes, however, it is the Bruins who have had the decided postseason edge, winning all three series played.
In the 1999 Conference Quarterfinals, the Bruins beat the Hurricanes in 6 games. Until the recent 4 game sweep of Montreal, this had been the last Bruins’ triumph in the playoffs. In 1990 and 1991, the Bruins handled the Whalers in the opening rounds, with some classic games mixed in.
The Whalers left Hartford for Raleigh in 1997. They’ve garnered a passionate fan base, and won the Stanley Cup in 2006, something the team never did in Connecticut. Current Bruins Mark Recchi and Aaron Ward were on that team. These two provide most of the playoff experience on the Bruins’ roster.
The Bruins beat the Canes four times in four games during the regular season. The scores were 4-2, 4-2, 5-1, 5-1. Highlights of these games (BTW, thank you NHL for not being jerks like the other leagues and allowing hockey highlights to remain on YouTube):
But since the last time they met (on February 17), the Canes won 18 of 25 games to close the season. They defeated a tough New Jersey side. They have momentum, and a bit of that Stanley cup magic. They were all-but eliminated, on New Jersey’s ice, and beat Martin Brodeur twice in 80 seconds. They have a Conn Smythe Trophy winner in Cam Ward. That’s a powerful card to have up one’s sleeve.
But the Bruins aren’t suckers. They’ll be rusty when the puck first drops, and perhaps a little sluggish after a short but emotional series against Montreal. Unfortunately for Carolina, Phil Kessel is on his game, scoring 4 goals against the Habs, not to mention his hat-trick in game #82 of the regular season. David Krejci also had a good opening series, and has 3 goals with 4 assists against Carolina this year. Andrew Ference could be back from his injury, deepening a defensive corps that needs to be stronger at the bottom. And Timmy Thomas, well he’s the only Vezina finalist still playing.
On paper, the Bruins are heavy favorites. But hockey is played very far away from paper. One possible scenario is that a rusty Bruins team struggles to get going, the Canes win a game (or two) in Boston, an inexperienced Bruins squad can’t handle the adversity and folds. I don’t think it will happen, but it’s a possibility. That being said, even if Carolina won the first two games of the series, my money would still be on the Bruins to win.
Bruins in 5. But here's the Whaler's brilliant theme song: