Biggest Storyline Surrounding Each 2nd-Round NHL Playoff Series
The second round of the 2013 NHL playoffs should provide hockey fans with some incredible hockey, especially since two Original Six matchups will rekindle storied rivalries (Boston vs. New York and Chicago vs. Detroit).
Many games at this stage of the playoffs are decided by one or two goals because the emphasis on physical play, good defense and quality goaltending is much greater. Six of the eight teams still alive are led by goaltenders who finished in the top 10 in save percentage during the regular season. Therefore, teams that don't capitalize on their scoring chances will be making their summer vacation plans in the near future.
Let's look at the biggest storylines surrounding each series in the second round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators
Special teams will dominate this series
The Ottawa Senators will not upset the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals if they don't win the special-teams battle.
Pittsburgh leads the playoffs in power-play percentage and ranks fourth in penalty killing, which makes it the only team in the top five of both categories.
In Tuesday's Game 1 victory on home ice, the Penguins scored on two of their three opportunities with the man advantage and were a perfect 5-of-5 on the penalty kill.
Since the Penguins have world-class forwards such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and James Neal featuring on the power play, taking too many penalties will result in Ottawa losing this series in four or five games.
The Senators have the third-worst penalty-killing percentage of all the remaining teams, and even though Craig Anderson has been phenomenal in net since the start of the postseason, asking him to shut down the Penguins on three-plus power-play opportunities each game is not going to result in much success.
Whichever team wins the special-teams battle will have the best chance to take this series.
Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers
Which team's top scorers will show up?
The Boston Bruins and New York Rangers were fortunate to win their seven-game first-round series without some of their best scorers producing offensively.
For the Rangers, Rick Nash needs to play better. He was acquired last summer to score the big playoff goals that the team didn't get last season when it lost in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Nash failed to find the back of the net and added only two assists during the first round against the Washington Capitals, and now he will play against the league's best shutdown defenseman in Bruins captain Zdeno Chara for the majority of his shifts. The star winger has scored only one goal in 11 career playoff games, and if this trend continues, it will be an easy advancement for the Bruins.
Veteran center Brad Richards also needs to make an impact offensively to generate enough scoring chances against a quality defensive team with an outstanding goalie in Tuukka Rask.
Richards scored one goal with zero assists against the Capitals, and as a highly-paid player and a former Conn Smythe winner, that kind of performance isn't good enough. If he doesn't improve, expect him to see most of his ice time on the fourth line.
Boston needs its top two goal-scorers, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, to be more involved in the offense. These two stars combined for 34 goals in the regular season, but they were unable to score once in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is 21-7-2 with a 1.67 GAA and a .943 save percentage in his career versus the Bruins, and since both teams play a physical game with lots of shot-blocking, scoring chances are not going to come easy.
Since the Bruins are getting very little offense from their bottom two lines, top-six forwards such as Marchand and Seguin have to score and be aggressive in the attacking zone.
Boston will not beat New York if it has to rely on the team's top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton for a second consecutive series.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
This could be the last playoff matchup between these rivals for a long time
The NHL's new realignment plan for the 2013-14 season and beyond will impact the Original Six rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in a major way.
Since the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference next year, these two teams will no longer meet six times in the regular season and will only match up in the playoffs if both clubs reach the Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this year's Western Conference semifinals matchup is going to be extra special for all involved.
The last time that the Red Wings and Blackhawks played in the postseason, Detroit defeated its rival in five games to reach the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. This series will not be a quick one, and since both of these clubs know each other so well as Central Division rivals, anything less than a six-game series would be surprising. Both teams will be motivated to end their inter-conference rivalry with a postseason series victory.
Detroit has lost seven straight to Chicago, and starting goaltender Jimmy Howard is 1-5 in series openers during his career. For the Red Wings to win, they will need to win one of the first two games at the United Center and avoid traveling to Detroit down 0-2. The Blackhawks led the Western Conference with 18 road wins during the regular season and will not be intimidated by the playoff atmosphere at Joe Louis Arena.
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
Jonathan Quick's brilliance is a huge obstacle for Sharks to overcome
For the San Jose Sharks to reach the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, they must find a way to beat Jonathan Quick.
The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner shut out the Sharks in a 35-save performance in Game 1. Quick has now won five straight games and has a GAA of 1.36 and a .953 save percentage in the playoffs thus far.
If the Sharks are unable to create enough traffic in front of the net and capitalize on their power-play opportunities (0-of-3 in Game 1), they will simply not score enough goals. Most of Quick's saves in the series opener were easy ones due to the lack of a net-front presence by the Sharks. When Quick has a clear look at what's in front of him, the chances of scoring on him are slim.
It's also important for San Jose's top players to show up. This team doesn't have the scoring depth to match a four-line team like Los Angeles if star players don't perform.
Top-six forwards Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski combined for zero points, five missed shots and a minus-three rating in Game 1. This kind of production is unacceptable.
These four players combined for 27 points in the Sharks' first-round series sweep of the Vancouver Canucks, and their success against Quick will essential to the team's chances of reaching the Western Conference Finals.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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