bruins_canes_faceoffA hockey game? Really. You mean the Boston Bruins actually get to play games?

It’s been nine days, but yes, the Bruins are finally going to start their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at TD Banknorth Garden after the Northeastern University commencement clears the building. Guess you can say the Bruins have graduated to the second round after matriculating for 10 years. OK, enough with the bad puns.

The Garden should be rocking like it hasn’t for the better part of the last decade. And that will be key against a Hurricanes team that doesn’t inspire the venom the Montreal Canadiens did. But like most playoff series, someone will step out of line and it won’t matter what sweater the guys are wearing — they’ll be ready to rip each other’s hearts out for a puck.

Make sure you keep a close eye on the Zdeno Chara-Eric Staal match-up. We all know that Bruins head coach Claude Julien isn’t much for matching lines. But when it comes to slowing one of the league’s potent point-getters, it’s all about sending out the Norris Trophy finalist at them. That’ll leave Dennis Wideman and whoever he’s partnered with to calm the Matt Cullen line. Wideman’s been up to the task almost all season, so the Bruins shouldn’t feel any drop-off.

Series notes: The Bruins killed 14 of 15 Carolina power plays in the regular season. And in the first round of the playoffs, the Hurricanes didn’t fare much better with the man-advantage against New Jersey (the Hurricanes were just 2-for-29).

What they’re writing: Carolina stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward are all grown up now. … The Hurricanes have a tradition of winning big overtime games. … The Hurricanes expect the Bruins’ defense and depth to be a problem.

Player to watch: If you watched even a second of the New Jersey-Carolina series, you noticed that Staal has made the quantum leap from very good player to star. However, the Bruins had his number in the regular season — holding him to no points in the four games. It’ll be up to Staal to solve Chara and the Bruins’ defense. If he avoids frustration, he can be the type of player that gives the Bruins fits with his combination of speed and grit and his knack for finding the net.