Every year, the playoffs come with questions: Who will? Who can? What if?
In 2008 people wondered: Who would come out of the top-heavy West? And would the West champ be too beaten-up to win the Cup? Could Carey Price carry the Canadiens? How effective would Peter Forsberg (remember him?) be? Would Washington continue its Cinderella-run under Bruce Boudreau?
With the NHL playoffs set to begin in earnest Wednesday in Washington and Pittsburgh, there are, again, questions that can only be answered on the ice.
Here are the THN Top-10 Playoff Questions:
10. Chris Mason or Roberto Luongo?
Luongo is undoubtedly the better goalie, but no netminder has been hotter in the past month than Mason. So in a series likely to be tight-checking and light-scoring, which goalie wins, the better one or the hotter one?
9. Will this be Mike Keenan’s swan song in Calgary?
Rumors persist GM Darryl Sutter is planning on handing the coaching duties to his brother Brent, once lil’ bro leaves New Jersey to get back to his Western roots. If the Flames are snuffed early, a coaching change is a no-brainer. And if the Flames win the Cup, Keenan is likely to move on of his own volition. Either way – and anything in between – Iron Mike’s days look numbered.
8. Are the Hurricanes for real?
Carolina has been a popular pick as a Cup dark horse. The Canes are battle-tested, having played in two Cup finals in the past six seasons, winning it all in 2006. But they haven’t been back to the playoffs since and wouldn’t be there this year without a late-season victory splurge. Carolina was the hottest team in the league to end the season and former Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Cam Ward looks to be in that form again, but which team will hit the ice?
7. Will Cinderella head west this year?
Last year it was all about which top team would come out of the West, this year it’s about which lower-seeded team will pull an upset. There are three distinct possibilities: wunderkind Steve Mason and his Columbus Blue Jackets over the porous Chris Osgood and his Detroit Red Wings; Chris Mason and his riding-high St. Louis Blues over the under-pressure Vancouver Canucks; and the up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks over the faltering Calgary Flames, which may not be an upset, but any team so inexperienced has to be considered a Cinderella. If any or all happen, the West will be wide open for a glass skate Conference final.
6. Can Mike Richards shutdown Sidney Crosby?
If he can, this series could go south for the Penguins in a hurry. If, as many expect, Pittsburgh rolls over Philadelphia in four or five games, the question will be moot. But the longer the series goes, the more intriguing the matchup becomes, especially if Crosby starts venting his frustrations with chippy play and whiny talk. If Richards can get No. 87 off his game, the Flyers will have a huge advantage.
5. What does a rested Martin Brodeur mean?
Brodeur will be 37 before these playoffs end. Normally, any time a coach can get a player of that age some rest, he will, especially when that player is a goaltender. But Brodeur thrives on playing a lot – he hasn’t played less than 67 regular season games since 1994-95 – and his performance has been so-so recently. Maybe the real question is: Is Brodeur’s game a little stale?
4. Can Henrik Lundqvist beat the Capitals on his own?
Goalies are a hot topic in this list because great goaltending wins playoff rounds. Washington’s squad proved during the regular season they can score, but will their young guns fire blanks under playoff pressure, while the veteran Blueshirts ride the confidence King Henrik exudes?
3. Will Mats Sundin finally step it up?
Sundin was signed to provide the leadership and scoring every team needs to contend for the Cup. His ability to lead is unquestionable, but it usually comes with unquestionable play, which hasn’t been the case this season. If he can become the player the Canucks envisioned when they signed him, Sundin could be The X-Factor who leads the Canucks on a deep post-season run.
2. Can Detroit’s goalies get the Wings back to the Cup?
Chris Osgood has been brutal this season, while Ty Conklin is a career backup. Detroit has won in the past, despite what many considered mediocre netminding, but the West is chock-full of top-notch goaltending this year. There will be little breathing room for a team of all-star skaters with dud goaltending.
1. Will San Jose finally meet expectations?
The Sharks have been a favorite to win the West and the Cup since at least 2006. Expectations are higher than in years past with the maturation of Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the return to form of Patrick Marleau and the additions of Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and coach Todd McLellan. San Jose looks poised to make a run, but will anyone be surprised if they don’t? Stay tuned.
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