The Pittsburgh Penguins enter the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs as the heavy favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals. Going into the regular season with a talent-loaded roster, the organization utilized the cap space made by trading Jordan Staal this offseason to bring in Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla.
However, during the first game with their new pieces in place, the franchise's cornerstone was removed after Sidney Crosby took a point shot to the face. While Crosby is expected to return some point during the course of the series, it remains unclear when that will occur.
On the other end of the spectrum, the New York Islanders surprised many by qualifying for the postseason for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Led by burgeoning superstar John Tavares, the Islanders clinched a spot in the playoffs but failed to finish the season on a strong note, dropping their final three games.
Pittsburgh will be the favorite in this series, as the team won four of five regular-season meetings with the Islanders. The Penguins outscored their opponent, 17-9, as well as converting on 21.4 percent of power plays and killing off 88.8 percent of penalties.
1. How will the Penguins perform without Crosby?
The Penguins' captain confirmed after morning skate that he will be unavailable for Game 1 due to his jaw injury. Crosby is obviously a huge factor. How will his absence alter the Penguins performance and strategy when it comes to line combinations?
2. How will Tavares fare in his first NHL Playoff game?
Last season, the Penguins also faced an Atlantic Division opponent in the Quarterfinal round when they played the Philadelphia Flyers. Flyers captain Claude Giroux was in the midst of a breakout season and compiled a notable series against the Penguins. It isn't a stretch to say Tavares is following a similar arch. Compiling 28 goals (third-most in the league) and 19 assists for 47 points, in addition to averaging 20:46 of ice-time (most among Islanders forwards), many consider Tavares a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Will the Islanders' burgeoning superstar make any kind of statement in Game 1?
3. How will Marc-Andre Fleury perform?
That same series against the Flyers was brutal for goaltenders. Fleury compiled an .834 save percentage with a 4.63 goals against average. With Tomas Vokoun on the bench, one would imagine Fleury is on a short-leash this time around. How will he respond?