Category: 2013 Playoff Previews


Five Q’s: Blackhawks-Kings preview


How important is home ice?

In this series? It’s massive. The Kings are a perfect 7-0 at Staples in the playoffs and, dating back to the regular season, are riding a 14-game winning streak at home.

(Fun fact: L.A. hasn’t lost at Staples since Mar. 28.)

Chicago’s been nearly as good — 6-1 at the United Center in the playoffs, 18-3-3 during the regular season — and hold the all-important home ice advantage by finishing first in the Western Conference.

The question will be: Can L.A. get a result on the road?

The Kings are just 1-5 away from Staples in the playoffs and their lone win came in overtime in the opening around against St. Louis.

Will L.A. shadow Jonathan Toews?

Detroit showed that a good way to slow down Chicago is by slowing down the captain.

Henrik Zetterberg drew the majority of that assignment in Round 2, holding Toews goalless through the first four games, in which Detroit built a 3-1 series lead. Frustrated, Toews finished that four-game stretch with more penalties (three) than points (one).

When Toews finally broke out, Chicago’s fortunes turned — he had three points over the final three games of the series, all wins.

Los Angeles has two options for the Toews shadow. One is Anze Kopitar, who teammates championed as a legit shut-down guy and potential Selke candidate; the other is Mike Richards, a Selke finalist from 2009.

(And yes, Toews himself is a Selke candidate this year.)

How can Chicago beat Jonathan Quick?

With traffic, according to Joel Quenneville.

“Traffic is something we talked about,” the ‘Hawks head coach said on Friday. “Pucks at the net, second opportunities are the ones you’re going to beat them with.”

Easier said than done, though.

Quick has been as good as he was during last year’s Conn Smythe-winning performance, posting a 1.50 GAA and .948 save percentage thus far.

“There’s certain situations where you go to do special things to beat him because he’s so effective in certain areas,” Quenneville admitted. “He’s had a special couple years in the playoffs. He’s a different kind of goalie the way he moves so quick in the crease, or even above it.”

Will Jarret Stoll return to the lineup?

The veteran missed nearly the entire San Jose series — he played just 10:25 in Game 1 before getting KOed by Raffi Torres — but practiced Friday on the third line with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis.

If he gets back in, it’s a significant addition of the Kings. Stoll’s a playoff veteran (62 career games, two Stanley Cup finals) that’s one of the best third-line centers in the game.

He won draws at a 56 percent clip during the regular season and gives L.A. tremendous depth down the middle behind Kopitar and Richards — a big reason why Sutter has said his centers were “the strongest part of our team.”

Can the ‘Hawks keep killing penalties?

One of the less ballyhooed parts of Chicago’s run has been its penalty kill — just one goal allowed in 41 attempts, a league-best 97.6 percent PK.

(That’s actually five percentage points better than L.A.’s PK of last postseason, which they rode to the first-ever Stanley Cup in franchise history.)

Killing penalties will be important against a Kings power play that got hot in Round 2.

L.A. went 5-for-17 against San Jose — 29.4 percent — with almost everybody chipping in, as 12 different Kings recorded at least one power-play point in the series.


Five Q’s: Penguins-Bruins preview

Five Q’s: Penguins-Bruins preview

Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron

How will the Bruins defend the Penguins?

Pittsburgh has been far and away the highest-scoring team in the 2013 playoffs. In 11 games, the Penguins have averaged 4.27 goals, more than a goal more than the sec0nd-best offensive team, Boston (3.17). Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be the two main areas of focus for the Bruins, with Patrice Bergeron, one of the best defensive forwards in the game, likely getting the Crosby assignment, and Zdeno Chara, one of the top shutdown defensemen, getting Malkin’s line (that also includes James Neal and Jarome Iginla). “You play this game to play against the best,” said Bergeron. “This is going to be a great challenge.”

Are the Penguins really the obvious favorites?

Boston forward Brad Marchand seems to think they are: “Obviously, they are the favorites. They have some guys that are very skilled and very talented, and they have the two best players in the world…and then you add Iginla.” But there are other areas where the Bruins may have an advantage. Despite all the goals the Penguins have scored in the playoffs, they’ve looked lost in their own end at times, particularly in the first round against the Islanders. The Bruins have big, powerful forwards that can make it tough on defenders to gain control and break the puck out, so that will be a challenge for Kris Letang and the rest of Pittsburgh’s blue-liners. Also, while Tomas Vokoun has played extremely well in relief of Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, nobody would be shocked if Boston’s Tuukka Rask outplayed his 36-year-old counterpart in this series.

Can the Bruins stay out of the box?

They’d be wise to try, given Pittsburgh’s power play has scored 13 times in the playoffs. Boston has been relatively disciplined through the first two rounds, but the skill and strength of the Pittsburgh forwards often leads teams to commit fouls against them. The Penguins may also try to goad the Bruins into retaliatory penalties. “Discipline is going to be a must in this series because they thrive on their power plays, and somehow they seem to get some every game,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We know how things are with us as far as a team. It’s tough to get power plays and we end up killing more than we end up having, power plays. We’re going to have to be extremely disciplined.”

Which deadline addition will make the biggest difference — Jarome Iginla or Jaromir Jagr?

A storyline made even more interesting after Iginla chose Pittsburgh over Boston. (Oh, and didn’t Jagr play for the Penguins at one time?) Based purely on goals and assists, the former Calgary captain has been the better player in the postseason. Iginla has scored four times and added eight helpers, while Jagr is still waiting for his first tally and has just four assists. To be fair, though, Jagr has been skating with less offensively gifted linemates for much of the playoffs, and he hasn’t had the best of luck, failing to ripple the mesh despite 36 shots. “I think it’s unfortunate that his numbers don’t reflect his play,” Julien said.

Can Torey Krug keep doing what he did against the Rangers?

The AHL call-up extraordinaire scored four times in the second round, three of them on the power play, which had been an area of extreme concern for the Bruins. “We’ve watched him play, we’ve watched the tape,” said Pens coach Dan Bylsma, “but he adds an element to the team that really hasn’t been an element for the Boston Bruins over the last couple of years, even going back to their Stanley Cup year. The element for him, skating for his team in the neutral zone that he’s added the last series, him at the blue line, his mobility across the blue line, his shot, that’s something we haven’t quite seen.”


Five Q’s: Blackhawks-Red Wings preview

Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews

Do regular-season results matter?

Detroit will hope not.

The Blackhawks swept the season series 4-0 (though, to be fair, three of the games went to shootout or overtime) and clobbered the Wings 7-1 on Mar. 31, a game Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said “was embarrassing at times.”

The ‘Hawks are 7-0-2 in their last nine against the Wings  — dating back to last season — and haven’t lost in regulation to Detroit in over two years (Apr. 10, 2011).

Can Howard best Crawford?

Most admit Chicago has the edge in terms of forward and defensive depth, so the goaltending position is hugely important.

Statistically speaking, Crawford had the superior opening round. He posted a 1.32 GAA and .950 save percentage to Howard’s 2.74 and .911, but it was Howard that stepped up when the stakes were high.

He went 3-1 in overtimes during Round 1 — stopping nine of 10 shots faced — and came up big again in Game 7, stopping 20 of 21 shots in the second and third periods as Anaheim looked to rally (and the only goal that beat Howard was a bank shot off Jonathan Ericsson’s skate).

How tired are the Wings?

It was a tough opening round for Detroit, drawing arguably the worst travel option imaginable (nearly 2000 miles between Anaheim and Detroit).

The Wings made a number of cross-country flights during the series, went to overtime in four of the seven games and suffered several injuries along the way: Danny DeKeyser (broken thumb) was lost for the playoffs, Mikael Samuelsson aggravated a pectoral muscle injury, Jimmy Howard has a sore hamstring and Dan Cleary was a human bruise by Game 7.

Will Sharp stay hot?

After missing 20 games during an injury-plagued regular season, Patrick Sharp has taken the postseason by storm.

The 31-year-old forward led all Chicago skaters with five goals in the opening round, scoring two game-winning tallies.

His sniping prowess overshadowed the fact that Chicago’s leading goalscorers in the regular season — Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews — failed to find the back of the net against the Wild.

Kane still managed to rack up five assists in five games, though, and gave Sharp plenty of credit for converting on his scoring chances.

‘‘He knows how to get open,’’ Kane told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘And when he does, he doesn’t miss often.

“He’s always finding himself a good chance, whether it’s around the net or in the slot.’’

What to do with Datsyuk and Zetterberg?

It’s a question Anaheim wasn’t able to answer in the opening round — Datsyuk and Zetterberg combined for 15 points against the Ducks, who simply couldn’t find the proper matchup for Detroit’s two best players.

That said, the ‘Hawks might have an answer.

They’ll return center Dave Bolland for this series after he missed the end of the regular season and entire first round with a lower body injury.

Bolland is a talented checking center who figures to slot into the third line alongside Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw — a unit that can play a physical, defense-first game but also provide offense when necessary.

Even though he’s just 26, Bolland’s carved a reputation as a solid postseason performer. He has 37 points in 49 career games and scored eight goals in 22 games en route to Chicago’s Stanley Cup championship in 2010.

For all the second-round playoff previews, click here.

Five Q’s: Kings-Sharks preview


How rare is it for the Kings to have home ice advantage?

Pretty rare — Los Angeles hasn’t had home ice in a series in 21 years.

LA lost the ’92 Smythe Division semifinals to the Vincent Damphousse-led Oilers. Luc Robitaille, currently serving as the Kings’ President of Business Operations, led all scorers with seven points in six games.

So yeah. Long time ago.

Aside from the historical stuff, getting home ice is a huge boon for the Kings. They’re riding a 10-game win streak at Staples and finished the regular season with the NHL’s best home record (19-4-1).

Will the layoff affect the Sharks?

San Jose hasn’t played since last Tuesday, when they swept Vancouver with a 4-3 OT victory in Game 4.

A full week off is a rarity, especially after a condensed 48-game season — but the Sharks have heard the rust versus rest debate, and know which side of the argument they’re on.

“Staying sharp — it’s stuff that we do every day, you just want to make sure you stay on top of it,” defenseman Dan Boyle told the San Jose Mercury News. ““People often talk about rust coming back, but I’ll take rust over getting beat up over the course of seven games.”

If the Sharks want a blueprint on how to handle time off, they should copy the Kings.

Last postseason, LA had six days off between Rounds 1 and 2 (swept the Blues), seven days off between Round 2 and the Western Conference finals (beat the Coyotes in five), and eight days off between the Western Conference and Stanley Cup finals (defeating the Devils in 6 to win it all.)

Has Jonathan Quick reverted to form?

Quick blamed himself for LA falling into a 2-0 series deficit against the Blues in Round 1, and with good reason — a puckhandling gaffe in Game 1 and Barret Jackman’s lengthy slapper in Game 2 had a people wondering if the luster had worn off last year’s playoff MVP.

Well, it didn’t.

Quick responded by winning four straight games to close out the series, stopping 104 of 110 shots (.945 save percentage) along the way and earning huge respect from Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock.

“That’s what playoffs are — goaltending is a big part of it,” Hitchcock explained. “I thought the best player of the series was their goalie. In the end he made the big saves.”

Who’s stronger down the middle?

These are two of the NHL’s deepest clubs at center.

San Jose’s trio of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski ran roughshod over Vancouver (22 points combined) in the opening round, while Kings head coach Darryl Sutter routinely praises his centers — Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, Colin Fraser — as the strongest part of the team.

(He also called Kopitar “the best all-around centerman that I’ve coached, period.”)

If there’s a slight edge, it might be in the faceoff circle.

The Sharks were dominant in Round 1 — Couture won a staggering 68.2 percent of his draws against the Canucks — while the Kings initially struggled against St. Louis (36 percent in Game 1) before evening things out by the end.

How physical will it get?

LA was in a virtual street fight with the Blues — Dustin Penner called it “the most physical series I’ve ever been a part of” — and what St. Louis showed (in Games 1 and 2 especially) was the importance of initiating contact with the Kings, a team that likes to crash and bang.

It’ll be interesting to see if San Jose can do something similar.

The Sharks got bigger and nastier up front by moving Brent Burns to wing and acquiring Raffi Torres, and get plenty of energy from the likes of James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels (who leads the team in hits, with 20).

For all the second-round playoff previews, click here.

Five Q’s: Penguins-Senators preview

Sidney Crosby

Will Tomas Vokoun still be the man?

It was hard to imagine Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma not going back to the 36-year-old backup that won Games 5 and 6 versus the Islanders after regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury stumbled rather badly. Vokoun stopped all but three of the 69 shots he faced, registering a save percentage of .957. Fleury, on the other hand, finished the first round with a .891 save percentage. If Bylsma still feels his best chance of winning the Stanley Cup is with Fleury, or if there’s a sense of loyalty there, he can always wait for Vokoun to slip up. And if Vokoun doesn’t slip up, all the better.

Can the Penguins get out of their end?

When Pittsburgh escaped Long Island, Pens captain Sidney Crosby said his team needed to do a better job of breaking out of its own end of the ice. That’s mostly on the defensemen, but it also falls on the forwards to help the blue-liners by being in better position to receive passes. If the Sens are smart, they’ll be getting in hard on the forecheck and trying to force turnovers. Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and company will have to manage the puck better than they did in the first round.

Will Matt Cooke be a target?

Or, do most Senators — unlike their owner — feel he didn’t intentionally injure Erik Karlsson back in February? Maybe it won’t even matter. According to Crosby, the Cooke-Karlsson narrative is one that could quickly become a distant memory. “You’ve got to win games,” said Crosby. “There are always storylines in a playoff series. This one’s easy because of what happened, but there’ll be something else after Game 1. It’s the playoffs.”

Will Jason Spezza be back?

Ottawa’s leading scorer from last year didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh as he continues to rehab from back surgery. It’s possible he could play at some point in the series, but there’s no timeline for his return. “I want to play, I want to back out there,” he said on Sunday. “I don’t want to have any pain. I wish I could the play the next game. It’s all going to be about how I respond. I’ve got to push myself. That’s why we’re really going to try and push forward in the next three days. It might tell me that it’s not time to play and it might respond real well, but I would be lying if I tried to give you a straight answer (on a return date).”

Pens’ power play or Sens’ penalty kill?

Led by the likes of Crosby, Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, Pittsburgh boasted the NHL’s second-best power play (24.7%) during the regular season and scored seven times with the man advantage versus the Islanders. Ottawa, though, had the league’s top-ranked PK in 2013 (88.0%), helped in large part by the great goaltending it received from Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner, and Ben Bishop.

For all the second-round playoff previews, click here.

Related: Pens stick with Vokoun for Game 1 vs. Ottawa