Eastern Conference Finals preview 


Carolina defenseman Jacob Slavin and Florida center Eetu Luostarinen battle for the puck.

The Carolina Hurricanes will be taking on the Florida Panthers in the eastern conference finals. The best of seven series will begin on Thursday in Raleigh, North Carolina. Games one and two will be in Raleigh. The series will shift to Florida for games three and four. If necessary, game five will be in Raleigh, game six in Florida, and game seven in Raleigh. 

The Carolina Hurricanes finished the regular season with a record of 52 wins, 21 losses, and nine overtime or shootout losses. They finished with 113 points, the second most in the league. They won the metropolitan division for the second straight season. They defeated the New York Islanders in six games in round one and the New Jersey Devils in five games in round two. They have relied heavily on their depth. Sebastian Aho and Jordan Martinook lead the team with ten points in eleven games, which isn’t that much compared to the other remaining teams top players. What the Hurricanes have that those teams don’t have, is the depth. 11 players have six or more points during the postseason. Five of those players, Martinook, Jesper Fast, Stefan Noesen, Brett Pesce, and captain Jordan Staal, played smaller roles throughout the season. They have had solid goaltending too, using three goalies in the playoffs (the most of any team). Antti Raanta went 3-2 in the first round with a 9.06 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against-average. Frederik Andersen played the rest of the way and has a 5-0-0 record with a 1.80 goals against average and 9.31 save percentage.

Pyotr Kochetkov made his only appearance in game three against the Devils when he allowed four goals on 22 shots and took the loss. They have three solid goaltenders that could all step in and win a game for the team. They play a shutdown defensive style. They are very conservative in their defensive zone, blocking shots and breaking up plays. They are good and quick through their neutral zone, quickly and cleanly getting into the offensive zone. They are constantly moving around the zone, looking for good looks, traffic in front of the net, and rebound opportunities. They are smart and always have someone drop back on defense when a defenseman decides to join the offensive rush. If they score first, they play even better defensively and PNC Arena boosts one of the best home crowds in the league. This team will only get better, as forward Teuvo Teravainen is nearing his return after missing the last nine games with a broken hand. 

The Florida Panthers finished with a record of 42 wins, 32 losses, and eight overtime or shootout losses. They had 92 points and were the second wild card in the eastern conference. It was a steep decline from last year when they had 122 points and were the best team in the league. They beat Washington in the first round before being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in round two. A large part of their playoff success comes from head coach Paul Maurice. The team parted ways with coach Andrew Brunette after last year and brought in the former Winnipeg bench boss. Under Brunette, they played a fast, offensive run and gun style. They were sloppy in their own zone giving up turnovers, great chances, and often allowing three or four goals a game (or more). Maurice has brought a tougher, more physical style to the team. There is much more structure in their own zone, decreasing the chances they allow. They remain great in the neutral zone and their top players will create offensive chances. Another reason is general manager Bill Zito. In his third season, the team has improved every year from losing in the first round, losing in the second round, to making it to the conference finals. Only four players on the current team Zito inherited from previous management (everyone else was drafted, traded, or signed by Zito). He made many changes to make this a more competitive team. He saw their weaknesses in year one, improved them in year two. He did the same in year two. He saw the way his team played was ineffective in the postseason and improved them to be better. He made many big improvements like trading for Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Brandon Mountour, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaegae, and Sam Reinhart. Tkachuk leads them with eleven assists and 16 points. Sergei Bobrovsky has been spectacular in net after taking over from Alex Lyon for game five in the first round. He is 7-2 with a 9.18 save percentage.

There are multiple storylines heading into the series. One of them is the head coach. Maurice coached the Hartford Whalers from 1995-97 and stayed with the team when they moved to Carolina until the end of the 2003 season. He returned for a second stint from 2008-2011. In his first stint, he coached Brind’Amour. Then in his second stint, Brind’Amour joined him as an assistant. Another is the Staal brothers going at it. Carolina captain Jordan Staal will be playing against his brothers Eric and Marc, who are forwards and defenseman for Florida. Eric played in Carolina for many years and won the Stanley Cup with them in 2006. Jordan has played Marc and Eric in the playoffs before separately. The three have never been in a series together.