The Boston Bruins didn't fare well in their tune-ups for the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Now it becomes much more serious with the beginning of the best-of-7 first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"It's over now and you start real hockey," said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, anticipating Game 1 on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Boston went 0-3 in round-robin competition to determine seeding for the conference's top four teams. That put the Bruins, who had the best record in the conference in the regular season, at the No. 4 seed.
Carolina holds a 3-0 record this month with a sweep in the qualifying series over the New York Rangers. The Hurricanes entered the postseason as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, but moved up a spot when the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated.
The Carolina-Boston matchup is a rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, which the Bruins swept in four games.
"We know what we're up against it," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "Right now, it's making sure our game is sharp and making sure we're the best version of ourselves."
The Bruins will be back in action with just one day off between games. The Hurricanes are coming off a week-long layoff following a qualifying series that concluded last Tuesday.
Counting an exhibition game, Carolina played four times in a seven-day period prior to the break.
"I'm glad it worked out," Hurricanes goalie James Reimer said. "The rest is important. It's good to get it done early and get some rest."
The Hurricanes, who have now won at least one postseason series in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, have choices to make at goalie. Petr Mrazek played in the first two games against the Rangers before Reimer was called upon for Game 3.
"Players trust both guys," Brind'Amour said. "... We're right either way we go, that's how we feel. For us, we have two good options."
The Bruins said they made progress in Sunday's 2-1 loss against the Washington Capitals, who won for the only time in the round-robin format.
"Just trying to become more comfortable with each game," Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk said.
"We're taking steps in the right direction," Bruins center David Krejci said.
The Bruins continue to sound confident even though it has been five months since they've won a game.
"These first round-robin games or whatever they were, you try to just shake the rust off and get your game where you want it to be," Rask said. "That's going to come if you keep plugging away."
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said he liked the defensive approach against Tampa Bay and Washington. The Bruins are waiting for their top offensive producers to find a flow.
"I think those guys will get their game going," Cassidy said.
Boston's power play has sputtered, going 0-for-2 against the Capitals. Carolina excelled in penalty killing against the Rangers.
The Bruins will count on a level of experience after playing in the Stanley Cup finals last year.
"Guys who have been there, those stakes will always be in the ground," Cassidy said. "We're generally healthy and got these guys some much-needed work (the past week), so those are the positives."
The Hurricanes didn't know who their opponent would be until the conclusion of the Boston-Washington game, so they've been interested observers in Toronto for several days.
"Watching games, scouting a little bit, but actually enjoying the hockey," Brind'Amour said of the past week. "The plan is trying to stay sharp."
The Hurricanes had time to sort through some questions during the qualifying series. Joel Edmundson played alongside Brady Skjei in one defensive pairing.
"A lot of good communication on the ice," Edmundson said. "He makes it easy to play with him."
The bigger question at the Carolina blue line relates to the status of all-star defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who suffered a broken leg in January and then exited July workouts with another ailment. He has been back at recent practices, leading to speculation that he could be available for the Boston series.
"It's a good sign to see him out there," Brind'Amour said. "I'm not sure 100 percent when he'll be ready."
--Field Level Media