Washington/Boston (Series tied 2-2):
When will the Bruins try to impose their will?
Maybe Tim Thomas wasn't the right person to wonder why his teammates don't seem interested in going hard to the net, but he's absolutely correct about what's been lacking for Boston. When you're facing a locked-in, lights-out goalie like Braden Holtby, the best way to counter is by making life as miserable for him as possible.
That isn't happening.
The Bruins that won the Stanley Cup last year were as nasty, edgy group. This team, surprisingly, doesn't look anything like that. The Capitals are playing an airtight defensive system, but it's not as if Boston's fought hardest to get through it. Will the real Bruins arrive?
New Jersey/Florida (Series tied 2-2):
What player takes over this series?
If there's one thing this matchup lacks, it's an identity. In every other series, you can find someone who's imposed his will on multiple games. That really hasn't happened here, with several different Devils/Panthers having strong performances but unable to make it last.
Both teams have yanked their goalies, with Martin Brodeur coming back from a Game 3 removal to set a new NHL playoff shutout record with the 24th of his Hall of Fame career. The Panthers look like they're going with Jose Theodore after Scott Clemmenson was lit up on Thursday.
But, if there's someone who really needs to impact things, it's Ilya Kovalchuk. This is why the Devils went through all that aggravation to get the supremely talented winger. He had a great season, but it's time to follow through. He has two goals and three points, but admitted yesterday to reporters "it's not the best series probably for me." Time to change that.
Ottawa/Rangers (Series tied 2-2):
Do the Senators need Spezza's offence to win?
He's got two points in four games, and deftly deflected a question about it on Friday by saying he can help by playing a more well-rounded game. That's certainly true, and you can tell his compete level is very high, but with Daniel Alfredsson's return sketchy at best you have to wonder if the pesky Senators can finish this without some Spezza scores.
In Games 1 and 2, John Tortorella made sure to get Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh out there against him. (He had one assist in those games.) With last line change tonight, you can be sure the Rangers will go for that matchup again. If Kyle Turris's beautiful Game 4 OT winner spurs his own breakout, that can only help Spezza too.
San Jose/St. Louis (Blues lead 3-1):
Do the Sharks realize what's at stake?
It's not just about playoff elimination. It's also about the direction of the franchise. San Jose's been so close so many times (featuring back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Final), that this kind of step backwards can only raise significant questions about where the organization is going. At some point, you have to take a serious look at the roster. The core of this team's been together for a few years, and if they can't make a run at the Blues in this series the front office will have no choice but to look at it.
So, when the Sharks are getting ready to go on-ice tonight, they should look around and say, "If we don't do this, we might not be together much longer." That can be a powerful motivator, especially if it's a room that gets along.
Chicago/Phoenix (Coyotes lead 3-1):
Can the Coyotes contain their excitement?
The state of Arizona is the proud owner of zero NHL postseason series victories. If you include its days in Winnipeg, there are two (one in 1985, the other in 1987) in 33 years. That kind of batting average won't even get you to Triple-A.
Considering everything that's going on behind the scenes in Glendale, this is a huge night for Phoenix. Dave Tippett is proving once again that he's a master of keeping the troops calm and focused, but this will be a different kind of challenge. His players will be excited beyond belief -- especially the captain, who's been aching to win something like this
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