The Carolina Hurricanes believe they can see their future.
In their minds, it doesn’t look all that different than the present of the Boston Bruins, the team they lined up across from for the past week.
At least that’s the hope.
“They know how to win, they’ve been there,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Boston. “But also they had to learn some tough lessons, too, along the way, that core group. They had some tough times early when they were together, and I think that’s made them the team that they are.
“And I think that’s what we’re doing here. I really believe that.”
The Bruins eliminated the Hurricanes on Wednesday with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the hub city for the East.
It was a tight series, with the teams either tied or separated by one goal in the final minute in all five games. Far tighter than when these teams faced each other last season in the Eastern Conference Final, when the Bruins swept the Hurricanes in four games by a combined score of 17-5.
“I think we played at a level to beat them,” Brind’Amour said after the Hurricanes, the No. 5 seed in the East, lost to the No. 4 seed. “I’m really proud of this team. They do it right and we responded, which was the best thing. We walk out of here, I think, with our heads high with the effort we put out there, especially tonight.”
It’s a far cry from the message Brind’Amour imparted after Game 4, when the Hurricanes gave up four third-period goals to lose 4-3. That game, he said, was “disturbing.”
But overall, it was an improvement for the Hurricanes, who are starting to imagine a future when they become the cream of the Eastern Conference crop, they become a team that makes the postseason year after year after year, and their core — Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton — becomes like that of their opponent, like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and David Krejci.
“We couldn’t get a break on the bounces, but I thought the maturity of our group from last year to this year, we’ve taken a huge step,” Brind’Amour said. “We closed the gap here, I think, from the elite teams. I think we’re closing in.
“As long as we learn what it takes to win, which I think we are and we have this series, I think it’s going to help this group moving forward. Just really proud of this team.”
There were little areas, little moments, when it was obvious which team was more experienced, had years of games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, had made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
“They did it better, more consistently, throughout that series than us,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal said. “We had some spurts. We looked like a team that could win this series at times, but over the five games, they were more consistent at it.”
Therein lies the difference. The difference that experience makes. The difference that comes from having been there already. The Bruins have been to the Stanley Cup Final three times since 2011, including last season, when they lost Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues. Before last season, the Hurricanes hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009.
There is a gulf there. But it’s narrowing.
And suddenly Brind’Amour is seeing exactly what he hoped to see when he took job as Carolina coach two years ago: a relevant team.
“That’s a good team,” Staal said of the Bruins. “They’ve got players that know how to win games. As a group, we’re going to learn from this. We’ve got some really good young players that want it and that are going to grow and going to be even better.
“That’s the exciting thing about the Carolina Hurricanes: The future is bright.”