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Question for each team in Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

The field is set for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but none of the 16 teams that made it are without flaws, or at least some question marks.

Here is one pertinent question for each team that if answered properly will go a long way toward that team having a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

NEW YORK RANGERS

Will Nash score?

Rick Nash led the Rangers this season with a career-high 42 goals. However, Nash has to prove he can be as effective in the playoffs, something he has never done before.

Nash had three goals in 25 playoff games last season because of a paltry shooting percentage (3.6 percent). He has five goals in 37 games with the Rangers over the past two playoffs and six goals with a 3.6 shooting percentage in 41 career games.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Will Trotz keep Backstrom and Ovechkin apart?

Capitals coach Barry Trotz experimented by separating Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for a game against the Rangers on March 29. Ovechkin scored, the Capitals won 5-2, and Trotz's experiment continued.

It lasted for the final seven games of the season, with Ovechkin being centered by Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Backstrom playing between Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson. The Capitals went 5-1-1 and Ovechkin scored six goals in the seven games, though he went three straight without one.

Trotz has to consider his experiment a success because he saw enough from Kuznetsov to think he can stay with Ovechkin in the playoffs, but he can always fall back on the old reliable of Backstrom and Ovechkin if need be.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Will Halak be good enough?

Jaroslav Halak
Goalie - NYI
RECORD: 38-17-4
GAA: 2.43 | SVP: .914
Goalie Jaroslav Halak was an all-star this season and set an Islanders record for most wins in a season with 38, but his play in the second half sent out some alarm bells.

Halak's problem in the latter stages was untimely goals, such as the game-winner he allowed to Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn on a floater with 2.1 seconds left in the third period.

Halak gave up three or more goals in five of his final seven starts.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Will Pacioretty return?

Montreal forward Max Pacioretty missed the final two games of the season with a concussion he sustained early in a game against the Florida Panthers on April 5. He skated Saturday and the reports are he's responding well to treatment, but the Canadiens have not provided an update on when he'll be able to return to the lineup, or even if he'll be able to return.

Pacioretty finished the regular season as Montreal's leading scorer with 37 goals and 67 points, and as the NHL plus-minus leader at plus-38. The Canadiens are obviously at a disadvantage against the red-hot Ottawa Senators if he's not able to return.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Will injuries on defense hurt them?

Braydon Coburn missed the final 14 games of the season with a lower-body injury. Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr missed the last six games of the season each with an upper-body injury.

The good news is Coburn, Garrison and Sustr have been skating. Coburn has been taking some contact while the other two have not. It's not clear if any, some, or all of them will be able to play in Game 1.

In addition, Lightning forward Alex Killorn missed the last three games of the season with an injury, but he could be back to start the postseason.

DETROIT RED WINGS

Is Howard or Mrazek the No. 1 goalie?

Petr Mrazek started the regular-season finale and made 35 saves in a 2-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes. He started six of the final nine games of the season.

It appears, at least judging by the way coach Mike Babcock handled the goalies at the end of the regular season, that Mrazek might be the guy in Detroit now instead of Jimmy Howard.

Babcock has not said anything definitive, but at this point it would be a surprise if he went back to Howard even though he has 45 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience to Mrazek's zero.

Howard had a .895 save percentage (56 goals on 538 shots) in his final 21 appearances after returning from injury on Feb. 11. Mrazek had a .936 save percentage (16 goals on 250 shots) in nine appearances from March 15 through the end of the regular season.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Will they stay hot?

The Senators got into the playoffs by going 23-4-4 in their final 31 games. They got in because goalie Andrew Hammond gave them confidence and they started getting production from across the lineup, especially from rookie forward Mark Stone, center Kyle Turris and defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Teams want to be playing their best entering the playoffs, but the Senators have essentially been playing playoff hockey since Feb. 10, when their run began with a win against the Buffalo Sabres. It's asking a lot for a team to stay at such a high level in pressurized situations.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Can they win without Letang?

Kris Letang
Defense - PIT
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 54
SOG: 197 | +/-: 12
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang had a Norris Trophy-caliber season cut short when he sustained a concussion on March 28. He missed the final seven games of the season and the Penguins were not the same team. He reportedly has been ruled out for the playoffs.

The Penguins went 2-4-1 without Letang. They had to sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the season with a 2-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres, the 30th place team in the League.

Losing Letang is a crushing blow to the Penguins' hopes of going deep in the playoffs. He drove possession because he started so many rushes from the defensive end with his strong play and quickness.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Who will be the starting goalie in Game 1?

Having two goalies you trust is great, but it's not so great if you're not sure which one you trust more. That's what Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has to figure out, and the only way to do so is to go with his gut as he chooses between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.

Allen finished with four consecutive games in which he allowed one goal. Elliott made 23 saves in a 4-2 win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, but he had a .845 save percentage in his final five starts. Elliott was the Blues' No. 1 for the majority of the season.

Going with Allen will mean Hitchcock is choosing a playoff rookie. Allen's Stanley Cup Playoff experience is limited to one minute he played during the 2012 playoffs; Elliott has appeared in 18 playoff games and has a .898 save percentage.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Have they hit a wall they can't get over?

Remember last season, when the Blues stumbled at the end by losing their last six games, all in regulation, and scoring five goals. They slid to second place in the Central Division and had to face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round.

St. Louis won the first two games but lost the next four and were eliminated.

This matters now because the Predators would like to avoid being this year's Blues, but there are a lot of similarities that don't bode well for them.

Nashville also stumbled at the end of the season by losing its last six games, four in regulation. The Predators scored 14 goals, but keeping the puck out of the net was an issue; they allowed 24 goals, or four per game, over their last six.

The Predators, who were first in the Central Division and three points clear of the second-place Blues on March 29, the day their losing streak began, slid to the No. 2 spot but have home-ice advantage against the Blackhawks in the first round.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Will Kane return at any point?

Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (fractured clavicle) appears to be ahead of schedule, with coach Joel Quenneville saying he is advancing in his rehab and workouts.

Kane was supposed to miss about 12 weeks, which would have kept him out until the Western Conference Final should Chicago make it, but now it's conceivable he could return late in the first round or in the second round if Chicago advances.

The Blackhawks were 12-8-1 without Kane, who had 64 points in 61 games before the injury.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Are they good enough on special teams?

The Ducks piled up 109 points despite having below-average special teams. They were in the bottom half of the League in power play and penalty kill.

A team can win the Stanley Cup without being exceptional in both areas of special teams, but at the very least a team has to be near the top of the League in the playoffs in one of the categories.

The Boston Bruins (2011), Los Angeles Kings (2012) and Blackhawks (2013) won the Stanley Cup by being excellent on the penalty kill and below average on the power play. The Kings last season were exceptional on the power play but just OK on the PK.

The Ducks will have to significantly improve one of their special teams in order to contend for the Cup.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Miller or Lack, who gets the nod in the net?

Ryan Miller returned for Vancouver on Saturday, playing his first game since he was injured against the Islanders on Feb. 10. Eddie Lack handled the No. 1 duties with Miller out and was solid with a 12-6-2 record and .926 save percentage.

Lack had a 2.57 GAA and .913 save percentage in 19 appearances before Miller was injured; by the time Miller returned he had lowered his GAA to 2.45 and raised his save percentage to .921.

However, if Miller is healthy it's hard to see coach Willie Desjardins keeping him on the bench considering his experience as a No. 1 goalie and his 53 games played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He allowed seven goals on 87 shots for a .920 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in three appearances against the Calgary Flames this season.

CALGARY FLAMES

Can they win in the playoffs the way they did in the regular season?

Calgary had a minus-16 goal differential in the first period (70-54), which usually makes it hard to win enough games to qualify for the playoffs. It's not difficult when you have a plus-36 goal differential in the third period and overtime (108-72).

The Flames finished 20-22-4 when they gave up the first goal, which means they gained 44 of their 97 points in those games.

In addition, Calgary had a League-high 29 points (13-14-3) in games they trailed after the first period. It was 10-20-4 when trailing after two periods, which means almost 25 percent of Calgary's points came when it trailed after two periods.

MINNESOTA WILD

Can Dubnyk keep it up?

Devan Dubnyk
Goalie - MIN
RECORD: 36-14-4
GAA: 2.07 | SVP: .929
The Wild are a formidable Stanley Cup contender if goalie Devan Dubnyk plays in the playoffs the way he did for the second half of the season after arriving in Minnesota in mid-January. He has never appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There were some indications he was starting to turn his career around before getting to Minnesota. Dubnyk had a .916 save percentage in 19 appearances with the Arizona Coyotes before the trade; that was a huge upgrade from the .891 save percentage he put up in 34 appearances last season.

Dubnyk got red-hot once he arrived in Minnesota and made his first start on Jan. 15. He was easily the biggest reason for the Wild's turnaround. Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with a .936 save percentage and 1.78 goals-against average in 39 appearances.

WINNIPEG JETS

Is Byfuglien going to be a difference-maker?

After sitting out four games because of a suspension, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien returned to the Jets lineup on Saturday and played a game-high 24:39 in a 5-1 win against the Flames. That was coach Paul Maurice's way of getting Byfuglien back into the flow after sitting for so long.

Although Byfuglien hasn't been to the playoffs since 2010, it was that year with the Blackhawks when he showed how effective his game can be in the postseason. He had 16 points on 11 goals, including five game-winners, and five assists in 22 games to be the X-factor in helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup.

The Jets were 9-3-1 without Byfuglien this season, but that's the very definition of small sample size considering Byfuglien was the Jets most-used defenseman from start to finish this season and their top-scoring defenseman with 45 points on 18 goals and 27 assists.

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