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TRAIKOS: 10 burning questions heading into the post-season


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Will the Maple Leafs get out of the primary spherical? Will the Oilers attain the second spherical? Are the Flames Canada’s greatest wager to profitable the Stanley Cup? And what’s the take care of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and all these goalies who hold hurting damage?

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With the common season coming to an finish, listed here are 10 burning questions as we flip our consideration to the playoffs:

Will the Maple Leafs get out of the primary spherical?

The final time Toronto reached the second spherical was in 2004. And whereas this is likely to be the perfect roster that the Leafs have had in almost 20 years, the duty hasn’t gotten any simpler for a group that set franchise information this 12 months in wins and factors. Rather a lot will rely upon goalie Jack Campbell, who has rebounded within the ultimate month of the season. However much more would possibly rely upon whether or not Mitch Marner can produce when the video games matter essentially the most. The Leafs winger had a career-year with 35 objectives and 97 factors within the common season. However he’s failed to attain in every of the previous two years of the playoffs. That can’t proceed, irrespective of what number of objectives Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews places within the web.

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Does Mike Smith have sufficient within the tank?

As of Friday, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl had mixed for 99 objectives and 233 factors. However how far Edmonton goes within the playoffs will rely fully on what number of objectives Mike Smith permits. The Oilers goalie performed in solely 28 video games this 12 months, which was his lowest since 2010-11. For somebody who turned 40 years outdated final month, it won’t be such a foul factor. Smith seemed fatigued when the playoffs began in every of the previous two years. Primarily based on his numbers within the ultimate month of the season —9-0-0 with a 1.66 goals-against common and a .952 save share — he must be the freshest he’s ever been. 

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Can Johnny Gaudreau be productive within the playoffs?

This was an enormous 12 months for the Calgary winger, who went from being commerce bait to being a possible Hart Trophy candidate. Whether or not it’s a good larger low season for the pending free agent will come all the way down to what he does within the post-season. Gaudreau, who scored 40 objectives and 115 factors, goes to receives a commission. Nobody is doubting that. But when he needs to actually maximize his worth, the 5-foot-9 and 165-pound winger has to dispel the notion that dimension doesn’t matter within the playoffs. For a Flames group that has the whole lot you need in a Cup contender, it is likely to be the one query mark heading into the playoffs.

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Which Canadian group has the perfect possibilities of profitable the Stanley Cup?

Given the selection, I’d personally like to see Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid going head-to-head within the Cup ultimate. However I simply don’t see it taking place — for both group. There’s too many holes, too many query marks, and too many issues that may go unsuitable. Should you’re searching for a certain wager, put your cash on the Flames going the gap. For one, they completed in first place within the Pacific Division, giving them arguably the best path to the ultimate. However greater than that, they’re constructed to win within the playoffs. Undergo the listing of what each championship wants and also you’ll discover that Calgary checks all the correct containers. They’ve three gamers within the top-30 in scoring. They’ve a top-5 goalie. They’ve dimension, grit and championship-winning expertise. And most significantly, they’ve a coach who has been pushing all the correct buttons.

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Which participant has essentially the most to show?

With a league-leading 123 factors, Connor McDavid is on tempo to win his fourth scoring title previously six years. But when the two-time Hart Trophy winner needs to take Sidney Crosby’s crown as essentially the most full participant — an honour bestowed upon the Penguins captain in a current NHLPA participant ballot — McDavid in all probability has so as to add Stanley Cup to his rising assortment of {hardware}. Which may not imply he has to essentially win a championship this 12 months. However with an injury-depleted Kings group as a first-round opponent, it’s in all probability not an excessive amount of to ask that the Oilers captain at the least carry the group into the second spherical or past — one thing that McDavid hasn’t achieved since his second 12 months within the league.

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Which group has essentially the most to show?

From the beginning of the season, Colorado was anointed because the favorite to displace Tampa Bay as champions. Since then, they’ve carried out little to alter that perception. Colorado completed with the perfect file within the West, with 4 gamers ranked among the many top-20 in scoring. And but, historical past isn’t on their aspect. Colorado, which hasn’t reached the convention ultimate since 2002, had the perfect file within the NHL final 12 months and went out within the second spherical. A part of that was due to poor goaltending. However the larger wild card stays Nazem Kadri, whose emotional outbursts right now of 12 months — he was twice suspended in playoffs with the Leafs and doubtlessly value the Avalanche an opportunity on the Cup with one other suspension final 12 months — will likely be entrance and centre when the video games begin to get heated.

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What group must be frightened essentially the most about its goaltender?

You suppose the Leafs have issues about Jack Campbell? Effectively, at the least he’s wholesome. That’s greater than some groups can say about their goaltending state of affairs. Whether or not it’s Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry or Nashville’s Juuse Saros, some groups picked the worst time for his or her No. 1 goalie to get damage. After which there’s the Carolina Hurricanes, who misplaced not solely Frederik Andersen but additionally Antti Raanta within the weeks main as much as the playoffs. Raanta, who mixed with Andersen to win the William Jennings Trophy for the league-lowest GAA, was capable of return for the ultimate recreation of the season. However contemplating that Andersen performed in 52 of Carolina’s video games, the group is hopeful that the damage to his leg will likely be healed in time for Sport 1 — and that he can do what he didn’t do in Toronto and win a spherical.

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Is that this Crosby’s and Ovechkin’s final dance?

Regardless of their ages, you’d be a idiot for pondering that Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin have been carried out after this season. However whether or not they’re within the playoffs right now subsequent 12 months is a special factor altogether. Whereas each Crosby (31 objectives and 84 factors) and Ovechkin (50 objectives and 90 factors) are producing at a stage extraordinary gamers their age, they’re each taking part in for groups whose championship home windows are virtually shut. Barring a commerce, this might be it for each of them. That being mentioned, don’t count on a lot. The final time Pittsburgh or Washington gained a playoff spherical was in 2018, when Ovechkin gained his first — and solely — Stanley Cup.

Which commerce deadline acquisition can have the largest influence?

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From Claude Giroux to Hampus Lindholm, there was no scarcity of big-name gamers moved on the commerce deadline who will likely be relied upon to make an influence within the playoffs. The man to look at, nevertheless, is Marc-Andre Fleury in Minnesota. This has been a bizarre 12 months for the longer term Corridor of Famer. Fleury went from profitable the Vezina Trophy final 12 months in Vegas to dropping his web within the playoffs to Robin Lehner, to then getting traded to Chicago. Since becoming a member of the Wild on the deadline, Fleury is 8-2-0, having break up the group’s ultimate 20 video games with Cam Talbot.

Can Tampa Bay turn into the primary group in almost 40 years to three-peat?

Profitable back-to-back championships is hard. Profitable three in a row is one thing the NHL hasn’t seen because the 1983 New York Islanders. And but, if there’s a group that may pull it off once more, it simply is likely to be the Lightning. Apart from a revamped third line, that is virtually the identical group that gained in every of the previous two years. In some methods, whether or not it’s Stamkos scoring a career-high 103 factors or Victor Hedman scoring a career-high 20 objectives and 84 factors, they’re even higher. However the massive X-factor is their goalie. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who gained the Conn Smythe Trophy final 12 months, was not too long ago voted by his friends because the man you’d need in your web for a must-win recreation. No argument there.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

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