10 Burning Questions Entering 2nd Round of 2013 NHL Playoffs
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The NHL playoffs are known for their shocking developments and surprises.
That's especially true in the first round, and there was no shortage of eye-openers this year.
The Bruins' miracle seventh-game comeback against the Leafs, the Red Wings upset of the Ducks and Henrik Lundqvist's back-to-back shutouts of the Washington Capitals in the sixth and seventh games were the highlights.
The second round will certainly have its share of memorable moments, but it tends to be more predictable than the first round.
We have a slew of burning questions as conference semifinals gets underway.
Will Jonathan Toews Emerge from His Mini-Slump and Lead the Blackhawks?
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The Chicago Blackhawks were the NHL's best team in the regular season and they had no trouble ripping through the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks got a stellar performance from Corey Crawford in goal and Patrick Sharp rebounded from an injury-plagued run in the regular season with a team-high five goals.
However, Jonathan Toews added little to the equation. The Blackhawks have a boatload of stars, and Toews is their brightest. He had just two assists in the five games against the Wild.
If the Blackhawks are going to make a run at their second cup in four years, Toews must step up and play like the team's best and most valuable player.
Do the Penguins Have the Goaltending to Survive?
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The Pittsburgh Penguins had a bit of a problem in the first round with the New York Islanders.
They were nearly pushed to the wall by the eighth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. After a dominant regular season, the Pens had to survive a six-game tussle with the spunky New York team led by John Tavares.
The problem for the Penguins was the goaltending. For the second consecutive year, starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was awful. Last year the Penguins got drummed out of the playoffs in the first round because Fleury couldn't stop a beach ball.
This year, head coach Dan Bylsma turned to backup Tomas Vokoun and he reversed the potential debacle.
Will Bylsma go back to Fleury at any point in the second round? Will Vokoun play adequately against the Ottawa Senators? Do the Penguins have the goaltending to run through the Eastern Conference and get to the Stanley Cup Finals?
Are the Sharks Tough Enough to Beat the Kings?
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The San Jose Sharks have been an annual disappointment in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In recent years, they have been considered one of the best teams in the Western Conference. However, they have never made it out of the conference and played for the Stanley Cup even though they have had one of the best rosters in the NHL.
The Sharks made a statement in the opening round, sweeping the Vancouver Canucks out of the playoffs.
Is this the year that the Sharks reverse their playoff reputation and show their talent and character? Or will they revert to type in the second round of the postseason?
The Sharks must take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the second round. The Kings don't make many mistakes and they play a hard, physical game every night. Will the Sharks stand up to them or will they fall apart as they have done so regularly?
Do the Bruins Have Another Miracle Left in Them Against the Rangers?
The Boston Bruins were dead and being fitted for a casket.
They were down 4-1 midway through the third period of the seventh game of the playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, the coroner was wrong. The Bruins had not expired. They rallied with a goal midway through the third period and two more in the final 84 seconds to shockingly send the final game to overtime.
Patrice Bergeron completed the comeback with an overtime snipe that ripped the heart out of Toronto.
Now the Bruins move on to the second round against the New York Rangers. They have a number of injuries on defense. Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden all finished the first-round series in the locker room.
If those players are either not available or at full strength, will the Bruins find another miracle to survive their first playoff series with the Rangers in 40 years?
What Kind of Game Plan Can Mike Babcock Devise Against the Blackhawks?
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Mike Babcock has won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings and won a gold medal with the Canadian Olympic team.
A good argument can be made that he is the best head coach in the NHL.
He will be tested in his team's second-round matchup with the Presidents' Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago has a decided edge in talent. The Blackhawks swept the season series against the Red Wings this year.
How is Babcock going to come up with a plan of attack that will allow the Red Wings to compete? It's a huge assignment for this stellar coach.
What Happens When Erik Karlsson Confronts Matt Cooke?
Erik Karlsson is the most potent offensive defenseman in the NHL.
He won the Norris Trophy last year and he is clearly the best player on the Ottawa Senators.
Karlsson is back in the lineup for the Sens after missing the majority of the season with an Achilles injury. He suffered a partially torn Achilles after a collision with Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.
Was the slash of Cooke's skate that cut Karlsson's tendon intentional? There were varying interpretations. While Cooke was not suspended for his actions, he has a reputation as a cheap-shot artist (source: SI.com) and he is going to be viewed as an enemy when the Pittsburgh-Ottawa series moves to Canada.
It seems likely that this series will turn into a full-fledged hate-fest once games are played in Ottawa.
How will the Penguins and Cooke react when they are treated harshly?
When Does Anze Kopitar Return to Form?
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Anze Kopitar is one of the Kings' most dynamic performers.
Kopitar led the Kings in scoring in last year's Stanley Cup run with 20 points.
He is an accurate shooter and passer and he has a knack for playing his best in clutch situations. However, he struggled much of the season and finished with regular-season totals of 10 goals and 32 assists. Those figures are respectable, but un-Kopitarlike.
In the first round of the playoffs, Kopitar had one goal and three assists in the first round against the St. Louis Blues. If the Kings are going to make a serious run at repeating, they need Kopitar to up his production and take a leading role for the Kings.
Who Is Derick Brassard and What Is He Doing Among the Playoff Scoring Leaders?
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The Rangers survived their first-round series with the favored Washington Capitals when they came through with a 5-0 victory in the seventh game at Washington.
Much of the credit, and rightfully so, goes to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The King registered back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7.
However, the Rangers would not have been able to advance if they did not get enough offense in the series. They got the bulk of that offense from Derick Brassard.
The Rangers acquired Brassard in an astute deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to the trade deadline. Brassard has been the Rangers' best offensive player since the deal. He leads the team with two goals and seven assists in the playoffs along with a plus-four rating.
If the Rangers are going to beat the Bruins, look for Brassard to continue to be a key offensive factor for head coach John Tortorella's team.
Who Is the Best Goalie in the Playoffs?
Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson
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There are a slew of stellar goalies who are still alive and kicking in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While it's all about finding out which team will raise the Stanley Cup at the end of the playoffs, one of the questions that may be answered along the way is who the league's best playoff goaltender is.
Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford are the leading candidates. All are allowing less than 2.00 goals per game.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup—along with the Chicago Blackhawks—yet they are not represented on this list.
That could be their undoing in the postseason.
Which Dark Horse Has the Best Chance of Winning the Stanley Cup?
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The Chicago Blackhawks have been the best team in the NHL all season, while the Pittsburgh Penguins have dominated the Eastern Conference.
The defending champion Los Angeles Kings are not going to go quietly into the night.
Those three teams are Stanley Cup favorites.
Which dark horse team has the best chance of emerging as a Stanley Cup contender?
Try the winner of the Boston Bruins-New York Rangers series. Whoever wins that Original Six battle will have a huge edge in goal over the Pittsburgh Penguins, assuming the Pens beat the Ottawa Senators in the second round.
If the Bruins beat the Rangers, they can roll out four lines, they have a dominant defenseman in Zdeno Chara and a solid goalie in Tuukka Rask.
If the Rangers win, they have a superb goalie in Henrik Lundqvist and a defense that excels at blocking shots. If they can beat Boston, they will have just enough clutch scoring to cause problems in a series with Pittsburgh.
Look for the winner of the Bruins-Rangers series to go into the conference final with substantial momentum and possibly defeat the favored Pens.