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In Round 1, Daily Faceoff resident coach Jon Goyens identified eight key battlegrounds that had significant impacts on the outcome of each series.

He was the first to use the word ‘boring’ to describe the start of that Calgary-Dallas series, which ended up being a wise premonition.

Goyens is back with four more key areas where Round 2 can be won or lost:

Key Battlegrounds

Eastern Conference

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Battleground: Counter attacks and Physicality

Welcome back to the Thunder Dome. Fans have been salivating for this Sunshine Skate rematch since last year’s first-round clash. Part of the reason for that was the physical element last year left us wanting more. The Panthers tried to run the Lightning through the boards. This time around, physical play must remain with a purpose – and extracurricular activities after the whistle could lead to a slippery slope. The Panthers come into Round 2 with the worst combined special teams numbers after their power play didn’t score against Washington (0%) and their penalty kill (70%) was subpar. You would think that they would manage to collect a power-play goal this time around, but they don’t want to get locked into a special teams battle with the Bolts. Counter attacks will happen quickly in this series. We will see defensemen moving it north and looking to attack on entries. Both teams have scored a large part of their goals at 5-on-5 using the counter attack, both ranking in the top five. Big question: Can Carter Verhaeghe, who had 12 points in Round 1, remain this hot against the team he helped win a Cup in 2020?

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers

Key Battleground: Playing Deep

This battleground aligns more with Carolina and its consistent play. It just doesn’t fool around too much in the neutral zone with the puck. The Canes have continued to embrace the style of ‘place and chase,’ creating most of their offense through puck retrievals. Carolina wants to play in your zone and clearly knows how to get after those pucks, get them to their skill guys, and allow them to make some magic. However, if the Rangers better recognize that at times, playing below the hashmarks in the playoffs can bring them success – look no further than Mika Zibanejad’s game-tying Game 7 goal – they will be better off. They have the size and skill to grind it out and be efficient in this facet of the game, but they just aren’t always as consistent and they’re going up against one of the most consistent in that regard.

Western Conference

Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues

Key Battleground: Rush Chances and Puck Races

Watching the Avs dismantle the Preds, we all know what to expect from Colorado. The Avs have an excellent power play – their 43.8 percent success rate led Round 1 – and they have the speed and puck skills to pull fans out of their seats. Scoring off the rush and creating odd-man rushes is their bread and butter. Colorado’s quickness allows them to pounce on rebounds and loose pucks in the offensive zone at a very high rate, which means more offensive zone time and more Cale Makar Magic. They are rarely one-and-done in the offensive zone. The Blues must remain above pucks and limit odd-man rushes against. The consistency of their decisions away from the puck will help on counter attacks as Colorado likes to push the envelope and use four men on the rush. There is opportunity there. The Blues’ ability to create more 50-50 situations can cut down their time defending. Don’t get me wrong: St. Louis can score. It just can’t get into a track meet where it trades 5-on-5 chances at will. Advantage: Colorado if that is the case. Another big question: Can the Blues’ penalty kill (83.3%) stifle the hottest power play?

Calgary Flames vs. Edmonton Oilers

Key Battleground: Emotions and Special Teams

If this first Battle of Alberta in 31 years is anything like what we remember, emotions will be running high – especially now that it’s the playoffs. Avoidable penalties will be closely linked to emotions and which team manages them best. Because on special teams, it’s also a Battle of Top Units. Edmonton’s power play was on fire (36.8%) in the first round and Calgary’s penalty kill (91.7%) tied for second in Round 1. In a previous story, I mentioned the idea of special teams momentum in the playoffs and how teams can ride the wave of a big ‘kill.’ The possibility of frustrating Edmonton’s star players can have a ripple effect, further highlighting the importance of emotional control. The Flames stayed true to their game throughout Round 1. They defended well, which led to them holding a major shot advantage over Dallas; their commitment to defend was second to none. Now, can the Oilers look to balance their own high-octane offense with team defense? They showed a much better attention to detail in their own zone in the latter portion of their series against Los Angeles.

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Former QMJHL head coach Jon Goyens has 28 years of coaching experience, from the lowest levels of minor hockey all the way to serving as a special consultant for an NHL team during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He is the winningest coach in the history of the Quebec Midget ‘AAA’ league with the Lac St. Louis Lions and has helped develop 25-plus players to be selected in the NHL Draft. He has also worked as an individual skills and development coach with future Hockey Hall of Famer Hilary Knight, as well as NHL players such as Jonathan Drouin and Mike Matheson.

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