For what seems like an eternity, the Boston Bruins have been the perpetual “yes, but…” when assessing the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff chances.
Yes, the Hurricanes have better scoring depth, but…the Bruins have the best line in hockey.
Yes, the Hurricanes’ defense is elite in places, but… top to bottom, the Bruins have just a little more.
Yes, the Hurricanes might be able to keep him close, but … as a last line of defense, Tuukka Rask will give the Bruins just enough to keep the Hurricanes at bay.
Well, Rask is gone now, and I can’t believe what I’m about to write, but it’s true: goalie in this series is a definite advantage for the Hurricanes. I’m going to stop for a moment while you get up off the ground.
Not really. The Hurricanes have absolutely owned the Bruins this year (to the point of outscoring them 16-1 with two shutouts in three games!) And a lot of that has to do with their goalie. And while Frederik Andersen was the record goaltender in every Hurricane win in this series during the regular season, what Antti Raanta did shouldn’t be overlooked and still tops whatever the Bruins’ revolving door offered this season.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the game in the net to see where the Canes’ advantages lie.
On those boards, blue is good, and there’s more blue on Freddie Andersen’s shot board than you’d see anywhere outside of the Democratic National Convention. What stands out so much about Andersen’s season is that the defense in front of him has been good, but far from extraordinary, yet he saved more than 30 goals above expectations.
His absence due to injury is significant, in that any team that is as dependent on Vezina-caliber goaltenders as the Hurricanes have been is undoubtedly a weaker team without Andersen, but Antti Raanta doesn’t. was not outdone himself:
Raanta’s struggles in the low-to-mid lunge stem largely from a vulnerability on the backhand. It’s the most glaring hole in his resume, and it’s the one Andersen masters much better. Wrapping backhands are a problem for Andersen, but he is so strong in every other phase of the game that it only takes him from otherworldly to well above average overall.
Incidentally, both goaltenders are above average at stopping deflections in the low slot, which is an area where the Bruins have always excelled. Raanta could actually be a bit better; Andersen is a bit vulnerable to deflections in the bottom of the right circle below the face-off spot.
Pyotr Kochetkov lacks the long history of both of his teammates, which makes him a little harder to peg, but he’s at least been as expected: six goals allowed out of 5.4 goals expected in his three wins to start his NHL career. The Hurricanes defense is notably tighter in front of him.
The bottom line is that the Hurricanes could definitely use Andersen to come back sooner rather than later, but they’re in good hands with Raanta. I imagine Kochetkov will only see duty as an icebreaker option, at least to begin with.
With Tuukka Rask retired to start the season, the Bruins had a decision to make between Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. The Hurricanes have faced each of them once, winning both, and also faced Rask in his failed comeback attempt in January. So they beat every goalkeeper exactly once this year.
Swayman and Ullmark were truly a pack: each played 41 games, with broadly similar numbers, .914/2.41 for Swayman, .917/2.45 for Ullmark. Bruce Cassidy has been back and forth all year between the two, with the longest streak of consecutive starts belonging to Swayman, who made it five in a row in mid-March.
Ullmark has slightly better shot charts than Swayman:
Swayman is better at spikes and deflections, but terrible at wrist shots from the lunge. If the Hurricanes can get free in the slot with him in front of the net, they should do everything they can to turn the Bruins’ goal into a shooting range.
Here’s the thing, though: the Bruins goaltender in a vacuum, even with Rask, hasn’t been truly elitist in years. In terms of expected goals, they let in pretty much what they should have had for the past five years or so. The problem, as has always been the case with a team led by a perennial Selke Trophy winner, is breaking through to give those goaltenders enough chances to make a difference. Boston has been one of the best teams in the league at limiting quality shots, and this year was no different. I mean, this should be illegal:
The difference this year is that the Hurricanes goaltender is significantly better than the Bruins. This means that instead of giving the Bruins the advantage due to their superior defensive play with a comparable goalie, the Hurricanes can instead flip the script and rely on their goaltenders to prevent goals that would have otherwise sunk them in the course. years past.
If I follow the Hurricanes, I plan to face Ullmark most of the time. Swayman’s weaknesses (especially in the slot and home zone to the blue line) play directly into the Hurricanes’ hands, as they are notoriously opposed to the clean frontcourt that is Swayman’s strength. Ullmark is more solid against the Hurricanes forces, but probably the best-case scenario for the Bruins is that he plays Raanta for a draw, like in years past. If this is the worst case scenario for the Hurricanes, rather than the default wait as it was before, it’s a big win for Carolina.
Now… will the Hurricanes be able to set up those shots without being harassed by the Bruins’ stingy defence? That’s another subject, and that’s the one we’ll be discussing tomorrow. Either way, it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to call the Hurricanes goaltender a force in a series and a definite advantage over even one of the league’s top teams.