NHL Playoffs 2014: Predictions for Friday's Stanley Cup Round 2 Matchups

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NHL Playoffs 2014: Predictions for Friday's Stanley Cup Round 2 Matchups
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins can become the first team to earn a spot in the NHL's final four Friday as they look to eliminate the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their second-round series at Consol Energy Center.

It may be up to Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to steal this game, as his team has been overwhelmed by the Penguins in the previous three gamesall losses. Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has allowed two goals in his past three games and has looked virtually impregnable.

The Minnesota Wild will look to repeat what they accomplished in the first round—tie their series at 2-2 with two home victories that followed two road losses. The Chicago Blackhawks had a six-game winning streak snapped in their 4-0 loss in Game 3 and will look to get to Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.

Here are three storylines and a prediction for both games on the schedule Friday.

 

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Will Rick Nash show up? It's been 11 games and about three weeks and he has yet to show up, so the answer is likely "no." Eleven games without a goal doesn't mean he's been poor in all the games, but he was definitely one of the worst players on the ice for the Rangers in Game 4. Nash was booed throughout the third period when he touched the puck, so perhaps going on the road is a good thing.

Can Crosby, Malkin and Kunitz be stopped? Since Dan Bylsma threw this line together in Game 2, it's been virtually unstoppable. It was responsible for two goals in Game 4, as Crosby got loose for a breakaway goal in Game 3 and Malkin and Kunitz helped set up the winning goal in Game 2 without Crosby on the ice. The trio had nine shots in Game 4. Another game like that and the Penguins will find themselves in the conference final for a second straight year.

Will the Rangers' power play score? The drought has reached an inexcusable stretch of 0-of-36 dating back to Game 2 of the first round. For all the talk of the Rangers' condensed scheduled and being tired, if they had converted on one of their three power plays to start Game 2, this could be a different series. With the score tied 1-1 late in the second period of Game 4, a Nash turnover led to a Brandon Sutter short-handed goal. The Rangers have two goals in their past three games, so a power-play goal seems like a must if the Rangers want to push this series to a sixth game.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 3, New York 2

 

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

How will Matt Cooke help in his return? His seven-game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit to Colorado's Tyson Barrie in the first round is over, and it looks like he'll take the place of an injured Matt Moulson for Game 4. Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune reports that Moulson will miss at least Friday's contest with a lower-body issue. Cooke isn't an upgrade for the Wild, but he brings a physical presence and help for the penalty kill that's been 18-for-21 (85.7) in Cooke's absence.

Has anyone seen Patrick Sharp? After scoring 34 goals in the regular season, Sharp has one goal and two assists in nine postseason games. He was on the ice for the Wild's winning goal in Game 3 and was held without a shot in Game 2. If there's one team in the NHL that can absorb a 34-goal scorer going cold in the playoffs, it's the Blackhawks. But the goose eggs can't continue to pile up if the Blackhawks want to get through Minnesota and defend their Stanley Cup. Sharp admitted he's not going to "sit around waiting" for his fortunes to change (via Mark Lazerus of Chicago Sun-Times). Sharp, who has eight shots on goal in the series, will continue to attack the Wild.

Can Ilya Bryzgalov repeat his Game 3 showing? Probably not, but he'll need to be close to that if the Wild want to even the series. It's not as though he's been particularly bad in this series, but he's lacked the big save at times. That wasn't the case in Game 3, with the Wild doing a nice job of limiting those great chances. The Blackhawks will surely be better in Game 4, so Bryzgalov will have to match that.

Prediction: Chicago 5, Minnesota 2

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com.

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