Keys For Every Team In Their First-Round Playoff Match Ups


With the 2015 NHL playoffs beginning today, we look at the keys for every team in their first-round match ups.

Starting with the Eastern Conference, we have the New York Rangers against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The New York Rangers need to be the team they were all season, en route to winning the President’s Trophy with a league-best 113 points. They played well with backup goalie Cam Talbot in net, while Henrik Lundqvist was hurt, and should really be able to dominate with King Henrik healthy. The key for the Rangers will simply be to keep on keepin’ on.

The Pittsburgh Penguins face a defensively stingy opponent and must keep the puck out of their own net themselves. The key for them is to get the Marc-André Fleury of this regular season, as opposed to most recent playoffs. Last year was his only postseason in the last five that he posted a save percentage above .900. They also desperately need captain Sidney Crosby to be at the top of his game, after he struggled last playoffs with only one goal and eight assists in 13 games.

And next in the East are the Montréal Canadiens against the Ottawa Senators.

Montréal relied heavily on Carey Price in net this season. He led the league in goals against average, save percentage, and wins. All while the team in front of him finished 23rd in the league with a 48.5 Corsi For Percentage. Sure, backup Dustin Tokarski was able to step up when Price was hurt last postseason, but the team must give their goaltending more support in possession numbers and protecting their keepers from being run.

The key for the Senators is for a continuation of the play we saw them exhibit as they forced their way into an unlikely playoff spot. And it all starts with Andrew Hammond – the Hamburglar. He’ll have to continue stealing five-and-a-half to six-ounce pieces of vulcanized rubber for Ottawa to make a run.

Things keep getting interesting with a Tampa Bay Lightning/Detroit Red Wings first round series. Two teams with lots of speedy, talented youngsters make for a great series to watch. And there’s also the Stevie Yzerman connection.

For the Lightning, they look for their improved blue line (Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn) to drive possession. They also look forward to playoff hockey with a  healthy Ben Bishop, whose injury hurt them last year.

Gustav Nyquist was a rookie sensation last year, but fell silent during the playoffs as the Red Wings lost in five games to the Boston Bruins. Now with another year of experience under his belt, he is the key for Detroit’s success.

The final Eastern Conference series between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals features some offensive dynamos in John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin.

For the Islanders, Tavares nearly won the Art Ross scoring race, until Jamie Benn‘s four-point night on the final game of the season took the title away. The Isles are filled with size, speed, and skill. But they, like Tampa Bay, Detroit, and others need their youngsters to pave the way.

Braden Holtby made his mark in the playoffs, really hitting the scene in 2012 with a 1.95 GAA and .935 save percentage in 14 games with Washington. He put together a solid season, and can really compliment the offensive threat the Caps hold in the goal-scoring leader, Ovechkin.

And into the Western Conference, there promises to be some gruelling hockey played.

The St. Louis Blues will play the Minnesota Wild for the first time in postseason play.

The Blues need to figure out who’s taking the reigns in net. Both goalies (Brian Elliot and Jake Allen) look capable, but would be the weakness in the lineup – if you had to call something a weakness. The team is loaded with size and scoring, and plays well defensively.

St. Louis needs a goalie to step up, and the young line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Jori Lehtera to dominate the postseason like the did the regular season.

Minnesota needs their January trade acquisition, Devan Dubnyk, to keep playing like he did since being dealt. When he came over, the Wild became one of the top teams in the league. But Dubnyk hasn’t had any NHL playoff experience, so this will be a test for him.

Click here to check out Derek Felska’s look at how the Wild should try to handle to Blues.

The Nashville Predators are stuck facing the Chicago Blackhawks, who will be joined by Patrick Kane.

Nashville must return to the form they had earlier this season, when they were leading the league in points. They since dropped off, but look for Filip Forsberg to carry the forwards like he did earlier. And of course, Pekka Rinne is always capable of stealing a series.

Chicago looks forward to inserting play-making whiz Kane back into the lineup for game one. The key for them is for Kane to hit his stride and come up with big goals like he’s done in the past. Look out, as always in the playoffs, for Bryan Bickell too, who has 20 goals and 14 assists in 57 career playoff games.

The Anaheim Ducks came first in the West, but may have drawn a sleeper in the Winnipeg Jets.

The key for the Ducks is for their younger defensive core, featuring Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler to deliver against a physical Jets squad.

The Jets, meanwhile, need the goaltending they had this season to follow them into the playoffs. Ondrej Pavelec surprised many with his .920 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA this season. With good goaltending, a deep, physical Jets team could be a dark horse this spring.

And the final match up features the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.

Vancouver will need good goaltending out of what will probably be Eddie Lack, and count on production from Henrik and Daniel Sedin on the top line. Both teams are somewhat top-heavy in scoring, with first lines that can produce a ton of offence.

The Calgary Flames will need continued production from the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler if they want to make a run. They must also continue to step it up in the absence of Mark Giordano, who wouldn’t be back until late in the playoffs, at best.