For four teams on Sunday, the must-win part of the playoffs has begun.
Here’s a look at something to watch in all four playoff series’, with the potential to set up elimination situations heading into the new week:
Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Can the Bruins capitalize on momentum?
The Boston Bruins finally won its first game against Carolina this season on Friday and kept themselves from falling into dangerous territory. Still down 2-1, they’ll need to replicate that performance to keep from falling too far down.
The Bruins need to play each game as if it’s a must-win, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Hurricanes need to clean up their special teams because the Bruins, currently flying high, won’t let you mess around.
The big thing here is goaltending. Jeremy Swayman was good in Game 3 and will need to replicate that in Game 4. If Antti Raanta returns for Carolina, that could spice things up.
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
Who will step up on St. Louis’ blueline?
With Torey Krug, Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo on the injured list, the Blues find themselves in a tough spot Marco Scandella returned to the lineup in Game 4 after being injured himself, but it’s not clear if he’s fully up to 100 percent yet.
Top prospect Scott Perunovich, who has been out since January with a wrist injury, could return, but that’s a big ask from a young defender. That means players like Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk will continue to carry the load, while Calle Rosen needs to step it up in a big way to keep the high-flying, speedy Wild offense from doing more damage.
They’ll need to figure it out, and quick, because another loss puts them down 3-1 heading back to Minnesota — and that’s not a pleasant spot to be in.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Will the real Tampa Bay Lightning please show up?
For the first time in three seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning are considered underdogs.
But Sunday, they really need to make a change, and quick. Between Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos — a trie with 95 goals combined during the regular season — the trio have just two goals, with both coming in a 5-3 win in Game 2. In fact, Tampa has just two goals in its two losses, failing to penetrate Toronto’s defensive efforts through three games.
Game 5 is back in Toronto, so Tampa Bay will look to head back north of the border tied at two games apiece. And since the Lightning hasn’t lost twice in a row in the playoffs since getting swept by Columbus in 2019, it’s quite easy to think they’ll bounce back on Sunday.
But to that, Tampa needs its star players to answer back. In a way, Toronto’s top players — namely John Tavares and William Nylander — need to show something, too. But they’ve got the luxury of a game in hand. Tampa can’t let this slip away.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings
Do the Kings have any answer for Edmonton’s offense?
The Edmonton Oilers have seven players with at least three points through three games, led by Evander Kanes and Connor McDavid’s six points each.
And that’s why the Los Angeles Kings find themselves down two games to one following a set of rough blowouts.
Trevor Moore and Philip Danault have been good for the Kings, but Los Angeles needs to get creative to keep up with McDavid and Draisaitl. That means getting better goaltending from Jonathan Quick, who has a 5.27 GAA and .859 save percentage in three games after reviving his career with a huge regular season.
The Kings have lost all three of its games at home to the Oilers this season. They can’t afford to let that happen again and go to Edmonton down 3-1.