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Western Conference Quarterfinal
Carolina +125 over Boston
7:00 PM EST. OT included. When you switch your goaltender two games into a playoff series, it says one thing, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Enter Bruins Coach Bruce Cassidy, who is making the switch in net to the fresh faced Jeremy Swayman from lifetime bench warmer Linus Ullmark. Is it an improvement? Most definitely. Is it way too late? To quote “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “Oh hell yeah!”
It’s pretty funny, looking back at the start of this series, it was the Bruins who were expected to have the edge in the net, while Carolina was supposed to be the team that was going to struggle without 35-game winner Freddie Anderson. Well, after just two games, the Bruins were outscored 10-3. If you are keeping track at home, through five games (three in the regular season and two in the playoffs), the Bs have been outscored by the ‘Canes to the tune of 26-4. 26-4! To be fair, that severely lopsided goal discrepancy does not show how hard the Bruins have played the Hurricanes in many of those games, but for whatever reason, Carolina has Boston’s number.
Let’s get back to Swayman, who on the surface, cannot be any worse than Ullmark was in the last two games. “On the surface” being the key phrase because one cannot predict what the kid’s mindset is going to be heading into Game 3 on home ice. The Bruins faithful, loyal as they are, are going to be on pins and needles tonight and it’s not going to take much to let the air out of the TD Garden. From our perch, Swayman was the clear choice to start this series that we did not even mention Ullmark in our series write-up, which we posted before Game 1. Even with Swayman factored in, we felt the Bruins were going to be in tough. A look at Swayman’s regular season numbers reveals some red flags. His .922 save percentage ranked him 21st league-wide among goaltenders with 20 starts. Ullmark posted a .920 traditional save percentage and .819 high danger save percentage. If you want to know what a solid high danger save percentage looks like, look no further to the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin or Blues’ Ville Husso, who each posted a .867, the best of all playoff’s starting goaltenders.
We actually like that the Hurricanes are leaving Carolina and the distractions of playing at home. They have not played their best hockey yet, thus getting on the road with far less distractions figures to bring out a better version of the Hurricanes. A better version is a big problem for the B’s.
Do you know why the Bruins lost Games 1 & 2 by four and three goals respectively? That’s right, Linus Ullmark, who posted save percentages of just .786 and .882 in each of those contests. We’re not going to rag on Ullmark anymore, as he’s no doubt been roasted enough this week. Hell, even coach Cassidy couldn’t lay off the poor guy he set up for failure, "We needed a timely save (from Linus Ullmark), there's no doubt.” Cassidy made one other great point that is being ignored as well, his team has been wholly undisciplined through two games, racking up 16 penalty minutes in Game 1 and 28 in Game 2. Said Cassidy, “We were in the box a lot."
So where does that leave us for Game 3 back in Beantown? Well, the Bruins played their asses off and are down 2-0 and they know it’s because their coach made a boneheaded move to pass on Swayman in Game 1 and then double-downed on that poor decision by again passing on him in Game 2. Now Swayman is in a no-win situation. Meanwhile, the market is overreacting to the injury to Carolina’s backup, Antii Raanta. Never mind that many of these talking heads were the same “experts” who were willing to write off the ‘Canes after Anderson’s injury. If you come real close, we’ll let you in on a little secret, rookie Pyotr Kochetkov just might be Carolina’s best option. Dude is an analytics juggernaut and he looks the part too.
Kochetkov won his three starts in the regular season and he stopped 30 shots in relief of Raanta on Wednesday night. He looks poised and sharp as a whip out there and that is without communications skills (he doesn’t speak English). We assure you, he and the D-Men have been working on communicating the past 36 hours, not that he needs it but add it to his repertoire and it can’t hurt.
Carolina has not been the better team so far but they are the better team (and has the underlying numbers to back it up) To be the poorer of these two teams on the ice three games in a row is not likely. In terms of intangibles, the Hurricanes have proven that they are superior to the Bruins where it matters most, in net and between the ears. Bruce Cassidy is standing pat with a soft 17 against Rod Brind'Amour’s ace.
Carolina +125 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.50)