NHL Playoffs 2014: Previewing Monday's Critical Game 6 Matchups

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 26:  Willie Mitchell #33 of the Los Angeles Kings congratulates goalkeeper Jonathan Quick #32 on shutting out the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in Game Five of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 26, 2014
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Home-ice advantage better mean something.

The three home teams in Monday's Stanley Cup playoff matchups are all down 3-2 in their respective series.

Of course, that's not an ideal situation, but you cannot ask for much more than having such a critical game in your home arena. When you're fighting for your playoff lives, you need every little break you can get.

Home-ice advantage has played a pivotal role in many of the first-round series so far, but who knows if the road teams will let it become a major factor, considering they're one game away from moving on?

Here's a brief breakdown of the three games on tap for Monday night.

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Penguins lead 3-2)

Gene J. Puskar

These two teams have alternated wins and losses in this series so far, so by virtue of the Columbus Blue Jackets' Game 5 loss, they have to be considered favorites in Game 6, right?

This series has been back and forth the entire way. The first four games were decided by 4-3 scorelines, while the Pittsburgh Penguins needed two goals in the third period to win Game 5, 3-1.

The margin for error has been minute for both the Blue Jackets and the Penguins.

Penguins forward James Neal said that he and his teammates know how tough it will be to win in Nationwide Arena Monday, per NHL.com's Wes Crosby:

It's been an up-and-down series for us. We've played well at times and then it hasn't been there at times. We could've come back in the series and it be 3-1 and us looking at a game [Saturday] night to clinch it, but we just didn't play good enough for that to happen. We're going to go into a loud building in Columbus and have a chance to close out this series.

It's going to be the toughest game. It always is, the fourth one, but it's exciting. It's the best time of the year and we're having fun with it.

Pittsburgh may have turned a corner in Game 5, though. It fought back from a 1-0 deficit and outshot Columbus 51-24.  It was the first time the Penguins really looked like the Penguins.

Coach Dan Bylsma experimented with playing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line, and for the most part, the results were encouraging.

If Pittsburgh carries its Game 5 performance over to Game 6, then it will be advancing Monday night.

Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche (Avalanche lead 3-2)

Chris Schneider

The home team has won each game in this series so far; however, the Colorado Avalanche should count themselves lucky after going down 3-2 in the third period of Game 5, before P.A. Parenteau's late-game heroics sent it into overtime.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy once again pulled his goalie with three minutes still to play, and it resulted in yet another game-tying goal. You have to give it to the legendary former goaltender. He's not afraid to take major risks.

Given how important home-ice advantage has been in this series, it's hard to bet against the Wild.

So much had to go right for Colorado just to take Game 5, between Roy's gamble paying off and Paul Stastny not getting called for offside, despite the replays showing that the ref probably should've blown the whistle.

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter wasn't afraid to voice his displeasure with the no-call, per NHL.com's Rick Sadowski:

It's too bad. I mean, we played hard, we came out in the third and played the way we wanted to. They missed a call and we pay for it. I mean, no excuses, we have to play better in the overtime. We got to get more pressure on them, get pucks at their net. They came hard but yeah, they definitely got away with a missed call to tie the game.

Playing in front of what will be a raucous Xcel Energy Center crowd and spurred on by what the players will feel was an injustice Saturday night, look for the Wild to come strong out of the gate and take control early.

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks (Sharks lead 3-2)

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 26:  Jarret Stoll #28 of the Los Angeles King skates with control of the puck keeping it away from Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks in the third period in Game Five of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Just when Los Angeles was left for dead, the Kings reeled off two straight wins to breathe life into their postseason hopes.

Now, they've got Game 6 at home.

The bad news, though, is that only three teams in NHL history have battled all the way back from a 3-0 hole, per Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles News Group:

Much of the Kings' hopes will hinge on Jonathan Quick. He let in five goals on 28 shots in Game 1, but since then, his save percentage has crept up and up, culminating with his shutout in Game 5.

So much of a postseason series is decided by which team has the hotter goaltender. Keeping the opponent out of the net is obviously a must, but having a reliable netminder also helps the attackers because they know that they won't have to score a crazy amount of goals in order to secure a victory.

Quick's got a wealth of Stanley Cup playoff experience, so he should rise to the occasion once again.


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