Is Vegas for real? Will the real Matt Murray show up?
The NHL playoffs are finally here and with it comes a slew of question marks as to whether everyone’s favourite team will go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.
Q: Do the old guys have enough in the tank?
While Ryan Getzlaf (61 points in 56 games) and Corey Perry (49 points in 71 games) put up respectable numbers this season, Ryan Kesler (14 points in 44 games) had one of the worst years of his career. At 33, he could be running on empty.
Q: Will Rick Nash supplement the scoring?
The Bruins are a one-line team, with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci combining for nearly 50 per cent of the team’s offence. The addition of Nash was supposed to help in that department, but after missing the last month with an upper-body injury, no one is sure what to expect.
Q: Can Jonathan Bernier hold the fort?
Losing No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov to knee and groin injuries won’t be ideal, but it might not be the end of the world if Bernier can replicate the .939 save percentage he registered when Varlamov was injured in January. Since then, Bernier had a .903 save percentage in 10 appearances.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Q: Can Pierre-Luc Dubois defend against Nicklas Backstrom?
Not many teams have a rookie as their No. 1 centre. But Columbus doesn’t have many other options. Plus, with 20 goals and 48 points, Dubois hasn’t exactly looked out of place. Now comes the real challenge: doing it in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings
Q: Will Jonathan Quick keep up his Vezina-worthy play?
There’s few goalies other than Quick that I’d rather have in net for a seven-game series. His playoff numbers speak for themselves. This season, the two-time Cup winner has been among the best in the league with a .921 save percentage, which is fourth among goalies who have played at least 50 games.
Q: Will the Wild survive the loss of Ryan Suter?
Without Suter, who led Minnesota defencemen in almost every category, the Wild will rely heavily on Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin. “That’s a (No. 1 defence pairing) on almost any team in the league the way they’ve played this year,” goalie Devan Dubnyk told reporters recently.
Q: Can everyone find a role that works?
The Predators, who have added Eeli Tolvanen, Mike Fisher and Ryan Hartman in the last couple of months, are so deep with talent that their second-highest scorer (Viktor Arvidsson) is playing on the third line. That’s a blessing. But it could also be a curse if ice time becomes an issue.
New Jersey Devils
Q: Can Taylor Hall continue to carry the offence?
Nico Hischer and Kyle Palmeiri combined this season for 96 points, which is only three points more than the solo putput from Hall, the likely league MVP candidate. In other words, if Hall isn’t scoring the team could be in serious trouble. That is, unless recently acquired Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner chip in more than they have.
Q: Which goalie will lead the Flyers?
It’s not exactly shocking that Philadelphia’s playoff success hinges on who’s in net. While Brian Elliott is back from a long injury layoff, will two games be enough to get him back in shape to face the Penguins? Otherwise, Philadelphia may have to rely on trade deadline acquisition Petr Mrazek.
Q: Will the real Matt Murray show up?
It’s been an up-and-down season for Murray, who has dealt with injuries and personal loss. But the playoffs are what have defined his short career so far. If he can replicate what he’s done in each of the past two playoff seasons, then the Penguins might just three-peat.
San Jose Sharks
Q: Can Joe Thornton still make an impact?
The veteran centre, who hasn’t played since Jan. 23, still isn’t sure about his readiness for the playoffs. At his age, you never know what you’re going to get anymore. But, even if it’s as a power-play specialist — where he has 18 of his 36 points — it’s a welcome addition.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Q: Can the Lightning get on the same page?
The best team in the first half of the season hasn’t exactly been the same team in the second half. Maybe it’s boredom. With Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller added at the deadline, the Lightning should have the pieces to win it all.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Q: Are the kids ready?
Though they had a taste of the playoffs last year, even more will be expected from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and the rest of Toronto’s youngsters. If they can play beyond their years, the Leafs have the talent to go all the way.
Vegas Golden Knights
Q: Can Vegas continue to amaze?
The Golden Knights shocked the world with their record-setting first season. In their first playoff matchup in team history, they drew the battle-tested L.A. Kings. Vegas started 25-9-2, but was 25-15-5 after Jan. 1, a still respectable 55 points in 45 games that was only 12th best in the league over that period.
Q: Will Braden Holtby reclaim the net?
Alex Ovechkin takes a lot of the heat for not getting Washington over the championship hump, but if the team is going to go deep it will because of its goaltending. Holtby, who wasn’t good enough in last year’s second-round loss, heads into this year’s playoffs with question marks concerning whether he should even be the Game 1 starter. Philipp Grubauer has been superior this season with a .923 save percentage in 35 games against Holtby’s .907 in 54 games.
Q: Will Mark Scheifele stay healthy?
When he’s been in the lineup, Scheifele has performed at an MVP level. The problem is he’s missed more than 20 games because of nagging injuries and heads into the playoffs with some obvious wear and tear on his body. Can he withstand the physical rigours of the post-season? We’ll see.
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