The New Jersey Devils prevailed in Game 7 on Monday night to become the eighth and final team to win a first-round playoff series. These questions, one per Stanley Cup contender, will shape what happens in Round 2 once the puck drops Tuesday.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Can 'The Factor' be an X-factor?
Ryan "The Factor" O'Reilly was brought in at the trade deadline to add another weapon to the Maple Leafs' center position, help shut down opposing top lines, and assume the daily been-there-done-that role within the dressing room.
O'Reilly's importance to Toronto's success will rise as the postseason progresses, and Leaf fans hope the right O'Reilly shows up to start Round 2.
The 32-year-old was an X-factor to start the first round. He triggered a mini-comeback in Game 1. He scored the game-tying goal with a minute left in regulation, then won an offensive-zone faceoff to earn the primary assist on the overtime marker in Game 3. He forced a turnover ahead of the opening goal, then won the O-zone faceoff before the tying goal in Game 4.
O'Reilly was far less impactful to close out the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He went pointless in the final three games and posted brutal underlying numbers, including an 11.7% expected goals rate at five-on-five in Game 5. He generated zero offense and lost 11 of 13 draws in Game 6.
While there's a chance O'Reilly continues to sputter, the smart money's on O'Reilly bouncing back. This is a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner who seemingly never gets rattled. When he's on his game, he does just about everything right when he doesn't have the puck. He finds ways to contribute.
Can Florida stay out of the box?
The Panthers took the most minor penalties out of any team in the regular season and then tied the Devils for most minors in the first round with 32.
Facing a physical opponent in the Boston Bruins over the maximum number of games definitely skewed the numbers. Plus, it's hard to argue with the on-ice results, especially since some of the Panthers' top guys – Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour – tend to perform best when physicality's ratcheted up. Case in point: Tkachuk paired 109 points (tied for sixth in the NHL) with 123 penalty minutes (tied for fourth) during the regular season.
Series win or not, averaging 4.6 minors a game is an unsustainable brand of hockey. It'll eventually come back to haunt them. It's fine if the Panthers' identity is soaked in battle-hardened grit, but controlling the sticks would go a long way; 20 of the 32 infractions were trips, slashes, cross-checks, hooks, and high sticks.
Boston capitalized on 11 of its 27 power-play opportunities for a killer 40.6% rate. Florida can't give Toronto's power play, which ranked second in the regular season and boasted a 28.6% rate in the first round, that many chances to heat up.