Grab your No. 2 pencils for our previews of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs' second round, featuring an academic format and the sort of useless knowledge you'd otherwise expect from a pop quiz.
So much has changed since the Boston Bruins last appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game. Swine flu. Obama's 100th day in the office. The release of that flick where Beyonce beats up the chick from "Heroes."
Oh, and the Carolina Hurricanes rallying to take down the Devils in Game 7, earning a date with the No. 1-seeded B's.
The Canes enter this series with one of the hottest netminders in the postseason and with a top line of Ray Whitney, Eric Staal and Chad LaRose that's been dominant since being formed in the first round. So they got that going for them, which is nice.
Boston Bruins (1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
The top sports headlines of the day
Friday, May 1 at Boston, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS (JIP), TSN
Sunday, May 3 at Boston, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
Wednesday, May 6 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS (JIP), TSN
Friday, May 8 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS (JIP), TSN
*Sunday, May 10 at Boston, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
*Tuesday, May 12 at Carolina, 7:00 p.m. VERSUS, TSN
*Thursday, May 14 at Boston, TBD TSN
1. The Boston Bruins might have the advantage at forward because:
A. Marc Savard (2 goals, 3 assists in Round One), Patrice Bergeron (2 assists) and David Krejci (2 goals, 3 assists) give the Bruins a King Ghidorah-level three-headed monster (tm, Pierre McGuire). This is actually the second NHL postseason for all three of them, and none were on the minus side against the Habs. Krejci was actually a plus-6 in the first round, continuing to excel even through the NHL hates him.
B. Now that Mike Komisarek isn't around to break a stick on his face and Maxim Lapierre isn't around to pester him into suspensions for punches, Milan Lucic can concentrate on his primary task, which is being awesome. Oh, and maybe contributing a goal here or there.
C. As long as they can drug Michael Ryder and convince him Boston's still playing Montreal, expect another seven points in four games.
D. They're a team of self-starters. One of the reasons Claude Julien's system worked so well this year for the Bruins is because they have so many forwards that can create their own offense. Six forwards in the regular season with more than 20 goals, and seven that finished north of 40 points. Pretty darn good.
2. The Carolina Hurricanes might have the advantage at forward because:
A. Eric Staal (5 goals, 2 assists), Ray Whitney (3 goals, 4 assists) and Chad LaRose (2 goals, 5 assists) are playing like a line that needs a nickname; a nickname that, once established, will be what Marty Brodeur profanely mutters under his breath in between bites of comfort gristle.
B. Tuomo Ruutu -- he's like Jarkko Ruutu without the suspensions, biting, cheap shots, villainy, resemblance to Flea from the Chili Peppers; and with offensive talent, the respect of his peers, 2009 postseason stats and ... OK, in hindsight, maybe he's not all that much like Jarkko Ruutu.
D. When they're rolling, they can completely control a game. Cole may not be scoring, but he's the type of tenacious forechecker that personifies these Hurricanes forwards. Same thing with Rod Brind'Amour. They can forecheck and grind, or they can blaze through the neutral zone with their speed. And that Staal line is the real deal Holyfield right now, second perhaps only to the Getzlaf line in playoff dominance. Still, Boston's deeper at forward.
3. The Boston Bruins might have the advantage on defense because:
B. Aaron Ward, a former Hurricane who lives in North Carolina during the offseason, will be super motivated in this series ... provided he can keep his mind on hockey rather than the rampant Wiki-vandalism that's consumed his life for the last year.
C. Andrew Ference initiated the NHL Players Association's Carbon Neutral Challenge; is a spokesman for a climate change organization; and has worked for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. He's the Bono of hockey, only less pretentious and with dragon tattoos attacking his nipples.
D. The emergence of Dennis Wideman this season upgraded this defense, and he's continued to play well in the postseason. Chara logged an average of 25:20 a game against the Habs, and his battles against Alexei Kovalev helped stifle one of the only semblances of offense from Montreal. Ward, Ference, Mark Stuart, Shane Hnidy and Steve Montador fill out a savvy, stingy blue line in front of Tim Thomas. If Chara and Timmy Thomas are able to contain the Staal line, this could be a short series.
4. The Carolina Hurricanes might have the advantage on defense because:
A. Because after walking the Earth from Philadelphia to Edmonton to Carolina, Joni Pitkanen (0-0-4, plus-5 in the playoffs; 7-26-33, plus-11 in the regular season) actually sort of kinda became a complete defenseman. Which stinks, because it takes an "all-O/no-D" go-to punchline out of circulation. Luckily, we still have "Joni Pitkanen, the defenseman who eats boogers" to fall back on. (Not for the squeamish.)
C. It's just a matter of time before Anton Babchuk (zero goals in six games, one healthy scratch) fires up the cannon on the power play again. And then it's just a matter of whether he hits the net, the glass, a Bruin, a teammate, a fan eating popcorn or a building three towns over.
D. The Devils exposed this defense's physical limitations at times in the first round, but Carolina's puck-moving and quickness balanced that out. Along with the players mentioned above, Dennis Seidenberg, Joe Corvo (three assists) and Niclas Wallin contributed solid efforts. Getting 14 of 49 points in Round 1 from defensemen is an indication of how important this group is to the Hurricanes' success; can Boston's forwards dominate them?
5. Which one of these ticket deals was NOT offered by the Carolina Hurricanes during the regular season?
A. The 99.9 The Fan deal, in which every remaining ticket regularly priced at $25 was reduced to just $9.99 on the day of the game.
B. Any fan with a valid Harris Teeter grocery card could get $15 off any lower-level seat from Sunday-Thursday.
D. The Hurricanes actually pay you to attend a game; admission includes free BBQ and a foot massage from Ric Flair.
6. (True or False) The number of bandwagon fans for the Bruins this season is greater than or equal to the number of bandwagon fans for the Red Sox.
7. The Boston Bruins might have the advantage in goal because:
A. Tim Thomas is a Leaf-seeking missile.
B. Tim Thomas drops Kostitsyns like a Russian mod snitch.
C. Tim Thomas has no time for Vogue interns.
D. Actually, Cam Ward (2.11 GAA, .938 save percentage, 1 shutout) is the backbone of this Carolina team, and he outplayed Brodeur over the course of the first round; if the Hurricanes upset the Bruins, it will be because of Ward's play. But the bottom line is that we don't want to buy Cam Ward beers until he takes a swing at an invisible opponent. Which is why we're giving the edge to Thomas.
8. Match the player with the corresponding fun fact:
1. Niclas Wallin
A. Received a dollar and a letter of congratulations from Ottawa fans for scoring a game-winner against the Habs.
2. Tim Conboy
B. Does a better Eddie Vedder than the dude from Creed.
3. Rod Brind'Amour
C. One of the few men alive to have been physically intimidated by Sidney Crosby.
D. Nicknamed "The Secret Weapon," had a fan all-star write-in campaign this season.
5. Marc Savard
E. Has been seen topless with the Stanley Cup.
6. Mark Stuart
9. The Boston Bruins have an advantage over Carolina Hurricanes on special teams because:
A. The Bruins enter the series as the only flawless team in the postseason on the kill: eight shorthanded situations, eight kills. Boston was 11th in the regular season on the kill (82.4 percent). Boston's kill is built on defensemen like Ward and Chara, but several of their forwards (Savard, Krejci, Bergeron, P. J. Axelsson, Blake Wheeler) can contribute.
B. Although Carolina only gave up three power-play goals to the Devils, their PK ranked 19th in the regular season.
C. Boston's power play when 4-for-16 against the Habs, while Chara and Wideman combined for 53 power-play points in the regular season.
D. Carolina's power play had a 6.9 percent conversion rate against the Devils, and Babchuk failed to score. It was kissing-a-pig-at-the-state-fair ugly at times. And not the animal -- the one that works the funnel cake stand.
10. The correct Getty Images caption on this photo is:
A. Bruins fan cackles uncontrollably upon realizing how incredibly accurate The Boston Translator is.
B. Bruins fan cackles uncontrollably after seeing what he thought were three dudes making out on the TD Banknorth Garden Kiss-Cam, until he realized it was just a promo for NESN's "The Instigators."
C. Bruins fan cackles uncontrollably after briefly glimpsing into the future and seeing where Joe Thornton would be on May 1, 2009.
D. "Fans celebrate the Boston Bruins 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 31, 2009 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston."
11. (True or False) Claude Julien not only has a coaching advantage over Paul Maurice, but bears a striking resemblance to a "King of the Hill" character.
(The answer key is here, in case you actually needed one.)
Final Essay: Why the Boston Bruins will win in six games.
Everything points to this series going even shorter than that, but Carolina's shown way too much resiliency to count them out, especially with the way Ward has played. If Carolina can earn a split in the first two and take it to Raleigh, where they have one of the best home-ice advantages in the playoffs, it wouldn't be a stunner to see them take a lead.
But the Bruins are a tough matchup, and not just because of their regular season mastery. (Like the Penguins, Carolina's a much better team than it was in February.) The Devils didn't have a lockdown defenseman like Chara against the Staal line. The Devils didn't have three scoring lines that can force the issue. Boston does.
Don't listen to the nonsense that the Hurricanes were "lucky" in Round 1. They played brilliantly effective hockey at times. Carolina can win the series if Ward outplays Thomas and the rest of the forwards play up to the standards of the Staal line. They need offense from Cole, from Brind'Amour and from Sergei Samsonov; they need to establish an aggressive offensive attack against this very capable Bruins blue line; and they need to figure out their deal on the power play, pronto.
But of the four semifinals, a Carolina win here would be the most surprising. Boston's too deep, Thomas is playing too well and they're well-rested with home ice. It'll be difficult at times, but they'll win and advance.