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Rosen's playoff mailbag - April 14, 2015

by Dan Rosen /

Here is the April 14 edition of Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run periodically throughout the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Let's get to it:

Which Canadian team out west will go the deepest in the playoffs? -- @JoseHudson

I'm picking the Vancouver Canucks will make it to the second round, which means the Calgary Flames won't get there, obviously. I don't think the Winnipeg Jets will get past the Anaheim Ducks, so the answer for me is Vancouver.

I wouldn't rank any of the three Canadian teams from the Western Conference (I was going to say Western Canadian teams but Winnipeg is not in Western Canada) as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. I think the Canucks will get past the Flames in six games, but I also think they'll go up against Anaheim in the second round and lose that series.

I see the Canucks being a tad deeper on the back end than the Flames, and I think the puck possession game will come in handy against Calgary. Vancouver will be able to hang onto the puck more than the Flames, especially as the series goes deeper, and that will be the difference in Calgary being unable to recover in the third period as it did so often in the regular season.

Anaheim has some questions in goal, but so do the Jets, even though Ondrej Pavelec played well down the stretch. In addition, I think the addition of Ryan Kesler makes the Ducks a better playoff team than they were last season. I also think the added mobility on their back end with James Wisniewski and Simon Despres has made the Ducks a better team.

What is the key to the Jets beating the Ducks? -- @C_Chap2

The obvious key is goaltending. Pavelec can't allow the goal that makes you go, "Geez, did that just go in?" That can't happen. The series will be too close for the Jets to overcome goaltending gaffes.

Beyond goaltending, the key for the Jets to win the series will be the play of Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little.

Byfuglien has to be the kind of difference maker he was in the 2010 playoffs, when he had 11 goals and 16 points to help the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. He doesn't have to produce at that rate, but he needs to be strong in his own zone, physical all over the ice, and have a shoot-first mentality because he has a powerful shot.

Little is somewhat underrated, mostly because he hasn't been on the Stanley Cup Playoff stage until now. He centers the Jets best line with Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik on his wings. Paul Maurice can easily put Blake Wheeler back on that line for Frolik too. That's definitely an option for him. Regardless, Little and Ladd could see a lot of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. How Little fares against Getzlaf will go a long way in determining who wins this series. If that matchup winds up being even, it'll be up to center Mark Scheifele to be a difference maker.

The Capitals playing style seems to be an outlier in the East. Does this help them or hurt them? -- @C_Diercks

I assume you're talking about how heavy they are and how physical they are. Those are great attributes and you're right, no other team in the playoffs from the Eastern Conference can match the Washington Capitals in those areas. So naturally, I think that gives them an advantage. How could it not?

But what makes the Capitals dangerous in my opinion is how they match that heavy style with a lot of skill, depth and great goaltending. They can beat you with their physicality and the way they grind, and they can beat you with their skill and the way they can control the play.

Alex Ovechkin's shot, particularly his one-timer on the power play, is arguably the greatest weapon in the game. The opposition knows the Capitals are working the puck on the strong side in order to open a passing lane to Ovechkin in the weakside circle. The opposition knows he's going to be there, and yet it's almost impossible to stop him.

I think the structure they have under coach Barry Trotz and the multidimensional way they can attack you makes this Capitals team the best we have seen in Washington in the Ovechkin era.

Most underrated team going into the playoffs? -- @MacVincent1

For me it's the Detroit Red Wings only because of how they finished the season and the questions they have, particularly in goal, heading into the playoffs. Don't let their 7-10-3 record in their final 20 games fool you, because this is a good team with scoring throughout the lineup and in my opinion the best coach in the NHL behind the bench.

The Red Wings were among the best possession teams in the NHL and had a dominant power play that tapered off at the end of the regular season. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall have a lot of miles on their bodies, but they are still elite players. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are the present and future in Detroit. Babcock is among the best coaches in the game at game planning for a seven-game series.

The question, obviously, is in goal. Petr Mrazek will start Game 1. He had a strong finish to the regular season. He also led the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup championship in 2013. He's legit, albeit inexperienced.

The Red Wings drew a difficult matchup in the first round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. If they can survive (I picked the Lightning) I think they'll get at least to the Eastern Conference Final.

How much has Kevin Hayes' development affected the Rangers' chances of winning it all? -- @the_real_dgraz

Hayes' development has made a major difference in the New York Rangers, particularly in their center depth. I think he's their X-factor heading into the playoffs. I laid it all out in this link, so click on it, read the story, and I think you'll know my answer.

If the Flames were to advance for example to the conference final, would that be the death of analytics? -- @iAlexGutteridge

Great question, and the answer is no. It would be an outlier in the analytics debate, something for the anti-analytics community to grab a hold of and try to hold over on the pro-analytics people. It would also be wrong for anybody to do that because anybody who is anti-analytics at this point just isn't paying attention. The analytics-based stats are useful tools to better analyze and even predict what is going to happen. They don't take into account fatigue and bad luck, which is what did in the Los Angeles Kings. Over the long haul if you follow the stats that account for possession numbers, usage numbers, zone starts, etc., you will be better served in your expectations.

The Flames are obviously not a good team based on the analytics, but they were a team that had a League-best plus-36 goal differential in the third period and overtime. Being that good in the third period means their record is not as influenced by their paltry possession numbers over a 60-minute game and an 82-game schedule. It's also based mostly on luck and is unlikely to repeat itself. The numbers generated from the analytics community are numbers that have the most likelihood of repeating themselves. That's what makes them matter. That's why a Flames run would not be the death of analytics; it would simply be an outlier.

Do the Penguins have a chance? Any chance? A one-percent chance? Anything to be optimistic about? @petefrompitt

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance, but I'm not picking them. I have the Rangers winning the series in five games, but I think all of the games will be close and for that reason a bounce here and a bounce there could extend the series and possibly put the Penguins in the second round.

My basis for picking the Rangers in five goes like this: They're much stronger defensively than the Penguins are at this point because of the injuries to Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Olli Maatta. That's the biggest difference. The Rangers six defensemen have a major edge over the Penguins six.

The Rangers also have elite goaltending and depth up front, each of which adds to their edge over Pittsburgh. The only advantage in the series that I see the Penguins having is down the middle with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the Rangers aren't weak at center by any means with Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes and Dominic Moore.

But yes, the Penguins have a chance. I just don't think it's a great chance.

Is Jaroslav Halak the Islanders' Achilles heel? -- @SeanTierneyTSS

Halak is without question the biggest X-factor for the New York Islanders if they have a chance to beat the Capitals in the first round. He can be their most important player, but he's definitely capable of being their Achilles heel. Halak did not inspire confidence with some of the goals he allowed late in the season. He can't carry those into the playoffs. That would be problematic.

Let's not forget that Halak is the one goalie who managed to keep Carey Price on the bench in the playoffs. He did that against the Capitals in 2010, when he was the difference in the Montreal Canadiens winning the series in seven games. Let's also not forget that Halak was a record-setting goalie for the Islanders this season (single-season record for most wins). He was an all-star this season and it was deserving. The Islanders only have a chance if Halak performs at his first-half level. Anything short of that and it's lights out Nassau Coliseum.


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