The Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins take the ice on Sunday for Game 4 of their first-round playoff series (12:30 ET, ESPN), as the Bruins hope to knot things up at two games apiece while the Canes are looking to bring a 3-1 lead back home for Game 5.
To help get you ready for the game, we've put together a guide on all the key players to watch for each team, including in-depth statistical insights from ESPN Stats & Information, as well as paths to victory for each club, courtesy of Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski. Shilton and Wyshynski also give their final score predictions.
The Stanley Cup playoffs return to ESPN networks in 2022: ESPN and ESPN2 will be broadcasting first- and second-round games, with one conference finals series on ESPN and the Cup finals on ABC.
Path to victory: Carolina's best players need to play like it. There wasn't enough star power from the Hurricanes in Friday's Game 3 loss, and Boston finally took advantage thanks to big performances from its own top-tier talents like David Pastrnak. Carolina did well in the series' first two games to limit how much space the likes of Pastrnak and Taylor Hall had to make plays, and after a decent first period on Friday, Carolina seemed to wilt when the ice tilted in Boston's favor.
Successful playoff teams are most often those that can handle momentum swings. This is a major test for the Hurricanes to engage their top six again, support whichever netminder is in the crease through stronger positional defense and, ultimately, just play to their strengths from there. Carolina has all the tools. To put Boston on the ropes in this best-of-seven the Hurricanes have to wield them with confidence again. -- Kristen Shilton
Insights from ESPN Stats & Information:
Teams that take a 2-1 lead in a best-of-seven series hold a series record of 369-158 (.700), including a 7-4 mark in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs (4-2 in the first round of the 2021 playoffs). The Hurricanes are 3-0 in best-of-seven series when having a 2-1 series lead and winning Game 4, and are 2-3 in best-of-seven series when having a 2-1 series lead and losing Game 4.
Nino Niederreiter has three goals in three games, currently the most among Hurricanes players during the playoffs. His three goals so far are the second most he has had in a playoff run, behind his four goals in 10 games with Minnesota during the 2015 playoffs.
The Bruins and Hurricanes have already made history this series, as it became the first series in Stanley Cup playoffs history in which multiple games have opposing goaltenders each making their first career playoff start: Linus Ullmark (BOS) and Antti Raanta (CAR), who each did so in Game 1, while Jeremy Swayman (BOS) and Pyotr Kochetkov (CAR) did so in Game 3.
Leading playoff scorer: Brad Marchand (one goal, three assists)
Path to victory: Take what happened in Game 3, rinse and repeat. Coach Bruce Cassidy reunited his top line of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with David Pastrnak. They produced an even-strength goal and thrived without the Hurricanes matching Jordan Staal's checking line to counter them. Staal was on the ice for 8:16 against Marchand in Game 2; in Game 3, with the Bruins having the last change, they shared the ice for only 1:30. Meanwhile, the Bergeron line was matched against Sebastian Aho's top line and shut it out.
Beyond that, rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman needs to be as competent as he was in Game 3. For the third straight game, Carolina scored the first goal; but for the first time, the Bruins didn't allow a second goal within the next three minutes to start the snowball rolling down the hill. Strong play from the veterans, smart coaching and the special-teams advantage. Do that again, and it's an even series. -- Greg Wyshynski
Insights from ESPN Stats & Information:
Marchand and Bergeron have both found the net during this playoff series, and are inching closer to the franchise record for most goals in the playoffs by a Bruins player (55, Cam Neely).
Marchand's goal in Game 3 was his 15th career playoff go-ahead goal. The only players with more in Bruins history are David Krejci (19), Rick Middleton (17) and Johnny Bucyk (17).
The Bruins have an all-time record of 114-27-17 during the regular season when Pastrnak, Marchand and Bergeron all record a point. During the 2021-22 regular season, the Bruins had a record of 19-4-1 when those three all recorded a point.
Final score predictions
Kristen Shilton: Hurricanes, 4-2
Greg Wyshynski: Bruins, 4-3