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

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NHL Playoffs 2014: Predictions for Sunday's Stanley Cup Round 2 Matchups
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

The New York Rangers will attempt to stave off elimination for a second straight game as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of their conference semifinal series Sunday. The Rangers cruised past the Penguins in a 5-1 win in Game 5 on Friday to extend the series.

Home ice has meant everything in the series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild with Game 5 at United Center also set for Sunday. The Blackhawks took the first two games of the series on home ice with relative ease while the Wild responded in kind when the series shift to their building for Games 3 and 4.

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

 

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Will the Rangers' emotion carry over?

The Rangers rallied around Marty St. Louis in Game 5, which took place about 24 hours after his mother died suddenly of a heart attack. The Penguins had won three straight games in mostly convincing fashion before the loss, which was their most one-sided setback of the postseason.

Sunday is Mother's Day and the emotions will still be raw for St. Louis and his teammates. If they can harness their energy and deliver another stirring performance, this one is going to Game 7.

Has Marc-Andre Fleury finally cracked?

After shutouts in Games 2 and 3 and a two-goal performance in Game 4, Fleury allowed four goals in Game 5 and didn't look good in doing so. He gave up a bad rebound that led to the Rangers' first goal and then appeared to simply miss a long, unscreened shot on another goal. He also allowed a bad-angle goal near the end of Game 4.

The series is far from over, though. NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen noted now's not the time for Penguins fans to panic:

Fleury's start to Game 6 will likely set the tone for Pittsburgh's chances of moving on.

Can the Rangers' power play do it again?

After an 0-for-36 stretch that spanned 10 postseason games, the Rangers' power play hit for two goals in Game 5. The first one was scored by Chris Kreider, who made his 2014 postseason debut in Game 4 in this series, with the second goal coming from Ryan McDonagh, who hasn't been at his best against the Penguins.

“Hopefully it lifted the million-pound weight we had on our shoulders when we’re going out there and we can keep getting it done on the power play,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal told NBC Sports. “It’s a huge part of the game and if we can get it rolling, good for us.”

No one is saying the Rangers will go 2-for-3 again in Game 6, but they may need to score with the man-advantage again to force a Game 7.

Prediction: Rangers 4, Penguins 2

 

Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

Can Corey Crawford bounce back?

Bad Corey Crawford reappeared after he was banished to the darkness during the final four games of the Blackhawks' first-round series with the St. Louis Blues. He allowed Jason Pominville to bank a puck of him from behind the goal line, then Nino Niederreiter snapped a seemingly harmless shot that eluded Crawford.

Crawford had been fine over his previous seven games and, for the most part, avoided allowing the bad goal. The Blackhawks will need to be better in front of him, too.

Can Ilya Bryzgalov keep this up?

Bryzgalov hasn't been busy at all in this series, facing just 21, 21, 19 and 20 shots in the first four games. The Wild played a much tighter game in front of him in Games 3 and 4, and Bryzgalov responded with a shutout in Game 3 and a two-goal game in Game 4.

“What I like about Bryz right now is he’s just part of the team,” Wild coach Mike Yeo told the Star Tribune. “He’s doing everything he can for his teammates. All he does is praise his teammates. For us, that makes us want to play harder for him.”

Bryzgalov allowed seven goals on 42 shots in the first two games of this series. If his struggles continue, the Blackhawks will roll in Game 5.

How about something from Jonathan Toews?

The Blackhawks captain has one goal, one assist and six shots in four games of this series. He's a minus-5 in terms of five-on-five shot attempts in the series and had a Corsi percentage of 27.6 in Game 4.

Toews is the driving force of the Blackhawks and always draws the toughest matchups. He'll need to pick it up in Game 5.

Prediction: Blackhawks 4, Wild 3

 

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

All statistics via NHL.com and Extra Skater.

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