Hurricanes turn focus to another playoff shot at Bruins

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes are coming off their best regular season in franchise history along with another division title and the third-best record in the NHL.

Yet so much about how the Hurricanes will be remembered comes with what happens in the NHL playoffs, starting with a first-round series against a familiar postseason opponent in the Boston Bruins.

“They know at the end of the day, we’re going to be judged on how things go in the playoffs,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

Game 1 comes Monday night in Raleigh.

The Hurricanes have gone from a nine-year playoff drought to four straight postseason appearances for the first time since the former Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina in 1997. Brind’Amour has talked about the goal of building sustained success as a regular member of the league’s elite, and the Hurricanes have done that by winning the Central Division last year and the Metropolitan Division this year.

They have won at least one postseason series each time, starting with reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019. Yet that run ended in a sweep against the Bruins, who ousted the Hurricanes in a five-game first-round series in the Toronto bubble a year later.

“Those were learning experiences for us for sure,” Carolina star center Sebastian Aho said. “Obviously it hurts that your season ends and some other team gets to end your season. At the same time, it’s a new story, new team.”

This year’s Hurricanes have franchise records of 54 wins and 116 points. There’s also a 3-0 record – by a 16-1 combined score – against the Bruins. Boston claimed a wild-card playoff spot after Friday’s loss at Toronto while resting top players like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

“They had their way with us this year,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Some of that was a while ago, and I think our team’s in a much better place than when we played them earlier in the year. So we’re not going to take too much stock in that.”

Here are things to know about the Bruins-Hurricanes series:

TENDING TO THE GOALIE

Cassidy said he wouldn’t tip his hand before Monday on who will play goal. He didn’t rule out using both Linus Ullmark, a longtime Buffalo backup who has never appeared in the postseason, and rookie Jeremy Swayman.

“I think it’ll be a little more open-ended, honestly, than any other year,” Cassidy said last week.

Ullmark went 25-10-2 while posting a 2.51 goals-against average this season, but 9-1 over the last 10 starts.

Swayman, 23, has a 20-11-3 record while posting a 2.34 goals against average this season. He leads all rookies GAA, save percentage (.915), wins and shutouts (three).

ANDERSEN’S STATUS

Carolina is still awaiting No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen to return from a late-season lower-body injury.

He was hurt in a loss at Colorado on April 16. The Hurricanes then briefly lost No. 2 goaltender Antti Raanta and turned to rookie Pyotr Kochetkov.

Brind’Amour has said there is “no timetable” for Andersen to return and that he wouldn’t play Monday, though he said cryptically that Andersen “touched” the ice Sunday morning.

Brind’Amour didn’t publicly name a Game 1 starter between Raanta (15-5-4, 2.45 goals-against average, .912 save percentage) or Kochetkov (3-0, 2.42, .902). Raanta, a nine-year veteran, has never started a postseason game.

STRONG FINISHES

Boston had won six of seven before the Toronto loss to close the schedule. Carolina enters the postseason having won six straight, scoring four or more goals in five of those.

LAST HURRAH?

Bruins captain and longtime No. 1 center Patrice Bergeron can become an unrestricted free agent after 18 seasons with the team. He has declined to talk about a new contract during the year, creating a possibility that he could leave or retire.

Bergeron, 36, is a four-time Selke Trophy winner — and a finalist for the award 10 straight years — who recorded a hat trick, including his 400th NHL goal, in his regular-season finale against the Sabres.

The longest-tenured Bruin, Bergeron is one of two players — with linemate Marchand — remaining from the team’s 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

“One of the things that is special is that it’s been a great ride with one organization,” he said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen often. I’m proud of that.”

REGULAR-SEASON REWIND

Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov (three goals, three assists) and Teuvo Teravainen (one goal, five assists) each tallied six points in the three regular-season meetings, while Andersen took the wins in net in all three meetings.

Bergeron had Boston’s lone regular-season goal, while Ullmark, Swayman and Tuukka Rask — who retired after four appearances this season — all saw action in the losses.

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AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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