With NHL playoffs in full swing, it’s time to retire our weekly Power Rankings and pivot to a weekly check-in on each team in the postseason.
Every Monday, we’ll highlight the most pressing question for each club and see which inquiries we can answer from week to week.
Boston Bruins: How long will they have to survive without Charlie McAvoy?
After two games in Carolina, Boston looked like it was dead in the water. Absolutely nothing was going right for the Bruins, and the questions quickly shifted from “Can they win the series?” to “Can they win a game?” Fast forward to Monday and, after two games in Boston, it’s pretty incredible to think that the series is tied, especially considering Boston played Game 4 without Hampus Lindholm (upper-body injury) and Charlie McAvoy (COVID-19). It’s no secret that McAvoy is the glue that holds the Bruins’ back end together, so the most pressing question is how soon he can return to the lineup. Since he didn’t travel with the club to Raleigh, he’ll likely miss Game 5 as well. Boston must find a way to maintain its momentum without him.
Calgary Flames: What happened to the offense?
It’s been a tough start for the team I picked to win it all. The Flames squeaked by Dallas with a 1-0 victory in Game 1 and then dropped the next two. In total, they’ve scored three goals in three games. Not exactly what you’d expect from a club that finished sixth in goals per game this season. Calgary had one of the deepest and most productive forward groups in the NHL, but everyone seems to have gone cold at a very inopportune time. Dallas deserves credit for its defensive play (especially in front of the net), but are the Flames going to start doing a better job of finishing on their chances and turn this thing around?
Carolina Hurricanes: Can they stay out of their own way?
It looked like they were going to run over the Bruins and then back over the corpse for good measure, but this series flipped on its head as soon as it got to Boston. Now, we’re seeing a lot of familiar postseason issues for the Canes, particularly ones that have burned them against the Bruins in the past. Carolina is losing the star-talent matchup. Goaltending looks shaky. Mental lapses. Taking too many penalties. Rod Brind’Amour is getting frustrated. Overall, the Canes are still in good shape if they keep their composure. They have home ice in a best-of-three, they’re outplaying Boston at 5-on-5 and the Bruins are currently without their best defenseman. But do the Hurricanes have the mental fortitude to avoid shooting themselves in the foot?
Colorado Avalanche: Will they even be challenged in Round 1?
Colorado is yet again rolling through a Round 1 opponent, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much the Predators can do about it. Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar are worth the price of admission every single night. Not even a superhuman effort from Connor Ingram in Game 2 was enough to keep the Avs down. Right now, it seems as though Colorado’s first true test is going to come in Round 2, where it will meet the winner of the Blues-Wild series.
Dallas Stars: Are they this year’s big spoiler?
Dallas more or less limped into the playoffs and appeared to be stuck with a very tough matchup against the Flames, who I picked to win it all in my bracket. But the Stars are also one of those teams that just seems built to withstand playoff hockey. Offensively, their production mostly comes from one line, but they’re tough, play sound defense and get good goaltending. Through three games, Dallas has essentially choked the life out of Calgary and out-battled them in a physically grueling series. Every year, there appears to be at least one team that comes out of nowhere and messes up everyone’s bracket. Are the Stars just putting up a valiant fight? Or are they legitimate threats to play spoiler?
Edmonton Oilers: Can they overcome depth issues?
We all know the Oilers have a top-heavy lineup that’s often carried by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but they’ve had some solid secondary contributions in the latter half of this season to provide some encouragement. After a back-and-forth start to the series, Edmonton still has concerns about its depth. If Phillip Danault’s line can continue to wreak havoc and shut down top opposition, that essentially cuts the Oilers to a one-line team at 5-on-5. And with Edmonton needing to shuffle the third line after Derek Ryan went down, there’s reason to be nervous about where this is headed.
Florida Panthers: Will the goals come?
The Panthers have scored eight goals through three games against the Capitals, which doesn’t sound terrible … until you remember five of those goals came in one game. Washington has done a really good job of limiting high-danger chances for Florida, but how long can they keep that up? And will the Panthers power play rediscover its magic after going cold with the reintegration of Aaron Ekblad? This is a Florida team that averaged over four goals per game this season, and Washington isn’t exactly a defensive juggernaut. So it’s reasonable to think the Cats can find a way to break through like they did in Game 2 … but they’ve gotta do it quick.
Los Angeles Kings: Can Jonathan Quick actually be a difference-maker?
The Kings-Oilers series features a matchup of arguably the two most chaotic and unpredictable veteran goalies in hockey — Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith. Both guys have had ups and downs already this series, but Quick was awesome in a shutout effort in Game 4 to help tie things up. Consistency has been an issue for Quick, but if he can remain a Chaotic Good and not a Chaotic Evil for the Kings, that might give them a big advantage in this best-of-three.
Minnesota Wild: Can Kevin Fiala find his game?
Kevin Fiala has been a key piece for the Wild this season, and he entered the postseason on an absolute tear, racking up 10 goals and 24 points over Minnesota’s final 13 games. But he’s developing an unfortunate reputation of going quiet in the playoffs — he’s only managed to record one point through the first four games this postseason. Not only is he not producing, but he’s also clearly frustrated and having a negative impact, piling up 14 penalty minutes. The Wild will need him to get back on track if they want to make a deep run.
Nashville Predators: Is there any hope left?
Once they lost that overtime game in front of an otherworldly Connor Ingram, it seemed like the writing was on the wall. Outlook is VERY bleak.
New York Rangers: Is Igor Shesterkin mortal after all?
If the answer to that question is “yes,” the Rangers might be done by the time we check in next week. It’s no secret that Igor Shesterkin is the X-factor for New York, and if he produces at the Vezina-caliber level he’s managed for most of the season, the Rangers have a real shot to contend. But Shesterkin looked rough in Game 3 against the Penguins over the weekend, and it’s a big reason why New York is in an early hole. The Rangers have improved their 5-on-5 play since the trade deadline, but they’re not going to go anywhere with average goaltending.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Will we see Tristan Jarry? If so, when?
Tristan Jarry’s injury status was concerning heading into the postseason. Then Casey DeSmith went down. No disrespect to Louis Domingue and his spicy pork, but I just can’t see this team going on a serious run with him as its last line of defense. The Penguins managed to buy themselves a little time. The clock is still ticking for Jarry, though.
St. Louis Blues: Can they survive their injury issues on the back end?
It seemed like St. Louis’ Achilles’ heel was always going to be the blue line — that’s been rather clear all season — but bad luck and injuries on the back end could very well expedite the Blues’ exit from the playoffs. Torey Krug, Robert Bortuzzo, Nick Leddy and Marco Scandella are all banged-up, and that’s forcing Craig Berube to get creative with his defensive corps. Regardless of whether it’s Ville Husso or Jordan Binnington in net from this point forward, St. Louis is probably going to need every save it can get.
Tampa Bay Lightning: How much is killer instinct going to make a difference?
In the back-and-forth series between Tampa and Toronto, both teams have looked very good and very bad at various points already. Now that it’s down to a best-of-three, I’m mainly interested in seeing how much determination there is on both sides. The Lightning have been really resilient and cutthroat over the past two postseasons, while the Maple Leafs … well, I probably don’t need to tell you. It goes without saying that Toronto’s biggest strength is its star power up front — particularly Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who have both been fantastic this season. When they started this series off on a very strong note (four goals in the first two games), it was a really encouraging sign for Toronto. However, Tampa did a great job of neutralizing them at 5-on-5 in Games 3 and 4, and it makes you wonder whether it was a product of the matchup game or whether that killer instinct is starting to plant its seed.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Are we panicking yet?
It’s hard to feel terrible about the spot the Leafs are in right now. They’re locked up with the Lightning through four games and have home ice in the best-of-three coming up. They’ve looked quite good at points so far. But there’s also reason to be worried. For one, they’re the Leafs. They always find a way to screw things up. But they’ve also seen Matthews and Marner go quiet on the road. John Tavares has looked largely invisible out there. Goaltending is shaky again. The ghosts feel like they’re right around the corner. They had a chance to go up 3-1 and let it slip away with an embarrassing effort. That’s gotta leave Toronto pretty uneasy.
Washington Capitals: Can they find sustained stability in net?
It’s Ilya Samsonov’s net now, but how long is that going to last? Goaltending consistency has been an issue for Washington all season, and it’s not exactly surprising or encouraging that the Caps have already had to make a change. They’ve done a good job of limiting Florida’s opportunities around the net so far. They just need to keep getting those saves consistently in order to stay in good shape.