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Five big questions that need answering ahead of the NHL Playoffs

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are fast approaching, and there are still some big questions that need answering as the regular season enters its final stretch.

Three weeks remain in the 2022/23 NHL regular season, and teams across the league are hoping to work through any kinks ahead of the months-long sprint to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Can Patrick Kane lead the Rangers to a deep playoff run? Will we see the same old Oilers this postseason? Can the Avalanche repeat? 

We address these pressing questions and more.

What2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs
WhenMonday, April 17th - Sunday, June 18th
How to watchSportsnet
Odds (To Win Outright)Bruins, +290, Avalanche +575, Hurricanes +800, Maple Leafs +900

Can legendary trio extend Penguins playoff run?

With Captain Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang leading the charge, the Pittsburgh Penguins have made the playoffs a record 16 consecutive times and won the Stanley Cup on three occasions in 2009, 2016 and 2017.

Last offseason, Malkin, now 36, and Letang, 35, signed new contracts to extend their stays with Pittsburgh and the 35-year old Crosby.

However, the season hasn't gone to plan. and with time running out on their illustrious careers, the trio face a major battle to extend their miraculous postseason streak.

The Penguins have lost five of their last six games and are 4-5-1 in their past ten. While they do currently hold a playoff place via the second Wild Card spot from the Eastern Conference, they are just one point ahead of Florida Panthers - who are 6-3-1 over their last ten.

Crosby leads the Penguins with 84 points (30 goals, 54 assists), Makin is second with 74 (24 goals, 50 assists) and defenceman Letang is seventh with 34 (10 goals, 24 assists).

As of Friday morning, the Penguins are -170 to reach the playoffs.

Can Kane find his groove in New York?

The New York Rangers made a major splash before the NHL trade deadline by acquiring three-time Stanley Cup Champion Patrick Kane from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Kane scored three goals in his first six games for New York and looked like an instant fit.

However, he has been kept off the scoresheet for the last five games and, while the Rangers have gone 7-3-1 in the 11 since his addition, they will need more from the superstar American come playoff time.

Kane’s lowkey start to life in New York is understandable, as before he had spent his entire 16-season career with the Blackhawks, whom he likely expected to retire with.

The 34-year-old has scored 132 points (52 goals, 80 assists) in 136 career playoff games, and if he can perform anything close to his past best, he will be a major asset for a team who made the Eastern Conference Final last season and are +1200 to be crowned champions this season.

Can Oilers rely on Skinner?

With the luxury of having the top two point scorers in the NHL, Connor McDavid (138; 60 goals, 78 assists) and Leon Draisaitl (110; 44 goals, 66 assists) the Edmonton Oilers are the highest-scoring team in the league, averaging 3.93 goals per game.

However, they rank 21st for goals against, allowing an average of 3.31 per game - not a recipe for success in the playoffs.

The Oilers signed Jack Campbell from Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason, who they expected to be their long-term answer in goal, but he has struggled - posting a 18-9-4 record with a well below average .882 save percentage and 3.57 GAA.

It's meant the Oilers have had to turn to 24-year-old rookie Stuart Skinner, and while his numbers are better (23-14-4 with a .910 save percentage and 2.90 GAA) he is still yet to prove that he can match up to the league's best on a regular basis.

The Oilers are +1300 to win the Stanley Cup and must decide in the final regular season games whether they trust in Skinner, who has never played a playoff game, or try to re-establish Campbell's confidence - who has 14 postseason appearances to his name with a respectable .915 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Related NHL News

NHL Playoff Picture: Boston Bruins lead the way

NHL: Best teams in regular-season history: Boston Bruins can surpass the greats

Can anyone stop the Bruins?

The Boston Bruins lead the NHL with 55 wins and they are 15 points ahead of anyone else.

They need eight wins from their final 11 games to top the all-time record of 62 in a season, set by the Detroit Red Wings (1995/96) and Tampa Bay Lightning (2018/19). They are on pace to do so if they maintain their current .775 win percentage.

They also require 18 points to beat the current record of 132 in a season, set by the Montreal Canadiens in 1976/77. If Boston maintains their current season average (1.6 points per game) through final fixtures, they will tie the record.

Additionally, the Bruins are on pace to finish the season with the highest goal differential in the salary cap era, leading the league with a goal differential of plus-117.

Boston are +290 to win the Stanley Cup, but will be well aware that only eight Presidents’ Trophy winners have gone on to hoist the cup since it was introduced in 1985/86.

It has happened just twice since the NHL salary cap was introduced in 2005/06, and it remains to be seen whether Boston can carry their regular season superiority into the playoffs.

Can Avalanche get healthy?

The Colorado Avalanche's run to the Stanley Cup last season clearly took a lot out of them and they got off to a relatively underwhelming start by their own extremely high standards this season.

For a long time, they found themselves outside of a playoff position in large part due to missing several key players and the injury bug just won't go away.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog hasn't appeared at all and, while there is hope he can return for playoffs, that is far from certain.

Artturi Lehkonen scored the championship winning goal last season, but his readiness for the post-season is in question after undergoing surgery on a broken finger.

Rugged defensemen Josh Manson and Erik Johnson, plus second goalie Pavel Francouz are also on the injury list and hoping to be back by the end of March.

To their credit, the Avalanche have gone on a run of strong form (7-2-1 in the last ten) to challenge at the top of the Central Division.

However, the question remains whether they will be healthy enough come playoff time to meet their +575 odds of retaining their Stanley Cup crown.

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