The Biggest Question Surrounding Teams in the 2nd Round of the 2014 NHL Playoffs
When analyzing the Stanley Cup playoffs, there are a number of general items that can make or break a club looking to bring home the greatest trophy in all of sports: scoring and defense, to name obvious ones.
Of course, goaltending is key as well. In fact, this entire slideshow could be about each team's backstop, as a hot keeper can take a franchise through the postseason and into the history books.
No two clubs have the same concerns and weaknesses, and that is what makes the tournament so exciting. The weaker clubs have been weeded out by the semifinal rounds, and now the best hockey of the year is on display.
There are storylines aplenty, some of which factor heavily into the on-ice product, and some that are merely fun to monitor and enjoy. But the questions for each team could mean the difference between moving to the next round and hitting the golf course in early May.
What follows is the biggest question surrounding each team in the tournament.
Can the Chicago Blackhawks play a consistent enough game to repeat as Stanley Cup champions?
There were times during the Hawks' regular season when it looked like a repeat was actually on the table.
There were also moments when the Cup hangover seemed to be in full effect, with Chicago struggling to string together a series of consistent performances from night to night.
Chicago went 11-10-1 following the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The Hawks beat teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. However, they would also suddenly fall to clubs, such as the Nashville Predators (three times), Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators.
The roller coaster of wins and losses highlighted the parity of the sport, but it also became more concerning when Chicago only managed two regulation wins through six playoff contests versus the Blues.
While the Minnesota Wild might be easy to pick apart, the Blackhawks will need to string together a complete effort every night for any chance at the Stanley Cup Final.
Will the goaltending situation hold up for the Minnesota Wild?
An obvious question for many clubs, Minnesota has had quite the predicament in net this season, and it has spilled over into the playoffs.
Five different netminders—Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper, Ilya Bryzgalov, Niklas Backstrom and John Curry—have played between the pipes for the Wild, and few of them have had any real lasting success.
Injuries, and Harding’s hardships with multiple sclerosis, forced Kuemper's call-up and the trade-deadline acquisition of Bryzgalov from the Edmonton Oilers.
Bryzgalov was shaky enough in the first round, losing the first two contests, that Kuemper was called upon to be the guy to get it done.
While he fared well on alternating nights, Kuemper eventually left the series against the Colorado Avalanche injured, forcing Bryzgalov's reappearance.
The 33-year-old Russian is now 1-4-1 after losing two straight to start a series again, and his 3.90 goals-against average and .830 save percentage shouldn’t instill any confidence.
Harding is nearing a return as well, but is playing the goalie merry-go-round in the postseason the best idea for a Wild club hoping to defeat the former Stanley Cup champs?
Are the Anaheim Ducks tough enough to survive a series with the Los Angeles Kings?
This isn't to say the Ducks weren't a physical team during the 2013-14 regular season. In fact, Anaheim finished 11th overall in hits, putting up a punishing 2,024 checks through 82 games.
It's just that the Kings finished tied for first with 2,609 hits, nearly 600 more than the Pacific Division leader, and the Ducks had only two players who finished the regular campaign with 80 or more games played.
Anaheim is tough, but part of L.A.'s game is to pound an opponent into submission.
A combination of strength and offense often results in a favorable decision for the Kings, and the Ducks will have to overcome this to move on to the next round. Unsurprisingly, the Kings lead the NHL in postseason checking and have close to 100 more hits than Anaheim.
Regardless, the Ducks set the tone in the first two games with 107 body checks—24 more than L.A. If Anaheim can weather the storm and still manage to score, the third round and beyond will be within reach.
Los Angeles Kings
Can the Los Angeles Kings maintain defensively with both Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell sidelined by injury?
Five of L.A.'s top six defensemen played over 75 games during the regular season, logging anywhere from nearly 19 minutes to 26 minutes a night while shutting down opposing forwards regularly.
Now two of those guys are hurt, and the Kings have to compete with the top team in the Western Conference without them.
Hardly the top-rated pair, the loss of Mitchell and Regehr challenges L.A.'s ability to shut down two of the most consistently potent forwards in the West. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have combined for five goals and 17 points through eight playoff games.
The addition of Jeff Schultz and Brayden McNabb offers help, but how well these reserves integrate will be key. The Kings did manage to persevere with just five blueliners in Game 1—Drew Doughty played over 33 minutes himself—so all is not lost yet.
Can the Montreal Canadiens button it down in the third period?
The Habs were 22nd in the NHL in goals-against scored in the final frame during the regular season.
Although the second and third periods were when most opponents scored on the blue and red club from up North, there were other teams surrendering bigger late-game collapses to consider it anything of consequence.
It also helped that the Canadiens put up the most offense in the third as well, evening things out.
While the majority of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s tallies came during desperate times in the final 20 minutes, the Canadiens have since allowed seven of 13 total third-period goals in just two contests against the much better Boston Bruins.
Montreal has also scored only two tallies going the other way.
The postseason isn’t the time to have a weak finish to a game, and Montreal isn’t handling the pressure of the waning seconds well. With a team such as Boston surging every night, Montreal will need to to be much stronger in the third period in order to survive the second round.
Can the Boston Bruins keep it up? Seriously, though, is there anyone who can slow down the best team in hockey?
Boston was a terror all season long and turned it up even more following the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The storied franchise—a bridesmaid during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final—went 18-3-4 to close out the year after the weeks-long hiatus in February, speaking to the determination and skill of last year’s runner-up.
There has to be a letdown at some point, right? No team can keep up such a torrid pace all the way through the most grueling part of the season.
While there have been very few missteps in the playoffs thus far, the Bruins have proven beatable in some regard.
One loss to the Detroit Red Wings—a 1-0 affair—and an overtime defeat at the hands of the Canadiens have shown that even a juggernaut has a weakness.
New York Rangers
Will the New York Rangers’ power play get it together in time to spark some offense?
The Rangers were far from having the best power play in the league during the regular season—finishing 17th overall—but 48 goals on 264 tries certainly helped the club make it into the postseason.
Key pieces of the power play—Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello and even Rick Nash—had four or more goals during the course of the year, helping New York maintain a positive goal differential by the end of the regular campaign.
The Rangers haven’t found the net much during the playoffs, scoring just 22 tallies through nine contests. At 2.44 goals per game, New York has the lowest average of all the remaining clubs.
Worse still is the Rangers' man-advantage scenario, which has found success merely three times through 42 chances—the most man-advantage opportunities rewarded to date—and is currently 0-of-34.
If the Rangers can’t start putting the puck away while playing with one more guy, hope for a berth in the third round will quickly fade.
Can netminder Marc-Andre Fleury play well enough to keep Pittsburgh in the hunt? Is Fleury dependable enough to overcome his postseason track record of collapsing?
There’s no question that Fleury is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and he proved as much when he finished tied for second in the NHL in wins (39) when the regular season ended.
His 2.37 goals-against average and .915 save percentage were enough to help the dominant Penguins overcome most opponents on most nights.
It’s no secret that Fleury has had his share of mishaps in the playoffs (the butt goal that won Detroit the Cup in 2007-08, for instance).
The 29-year-old's postseason woes were on display last year when he eventually lost not only the confidence of his coach but his starting role to veteran backup Tomas Vokoun as well.
Looking to start fresh, Fluery made the first round of this season interesting after miscues with the puck cost the Penguins a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
If Fleury can come up big, the Penguins will go deep in the playoffs, but his bad luck and contentious choices are always something to keep an eye on.