5 NHL Questions: Playoff teams look to avoid Olympic letdown

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

With only two days of NHL action remaining before the Olympic break, a number of top-eight or near top-eight teams are in action Friday night.

1. Is Rangers-Penguins the ultimate Olympic preview?

Consider this when New York and Pittsburgh meet at the Consol Energy Center before both teams take time off for Sochi: Before coaching Team USA, Dan Bylsma will be behind the bench for the Penguins with top players Sidney Crosby (Canada) and Evgeni Malkin (Russia), who will oppose Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden), Rick Nash (Canada) and Ryan McDonagh (USA), all very integral parts of their respective Olympics squads. In total, this game will feature 14 Olympians. Needless to say, allegiances will probably prevail Friday night before teammates become enemies in a matter of weeks.

2. Can the Oilers continue rolling?

Despite being outshot Thursday night (the Oiler way), Nail Yakupov scored with 1:38 left in regulation and Edmonton stole two points at Madison Square Garden. The Oilers are winners of five of their last six, getting steady goaltending from Ben Scrivens. While the Oilers appear to be all but out of a playoff spot, their performance from here on out could determine the future of head coach Dallas Eakins.

3. What's the Hurricanes' plan for Cam Ward?

The former Conn Smythe winner was recently recalled from the AHL after being sent down for a conditioning stint. There have been rumors the Hurricanes could trade Ward, and if that's the case, could it mean playing him Friday night versus the Panthers? Ward will first have to make it past the 3 p.m. roster freeze deadline, assuming he is really on the block.

4. Can Chicago reclaim the top spot in the West?

While the Ducks have spent the majority of the season looking down at the rest of the West (and NHL), the Blackhawks have a chance to leapfrog them tonight (although Anaheim does play tomorrow night) by earning at least a point. As far as standings go, the game means a bit more for Chicago's opponent, the Coyotes, who trail the Canucks by a point for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, while holding three games in hand on Vancouver entering Friday night.

5. Can the Sharks score more than two goals?

Despite being a top-10 team in the league in goals per game, the Sharks have scored two or fewer in their last six. It's led San Jose to a 2-4-0 record during that stretch, while its opponents, the Blue Jackets, are red hot, going 11-3-1 in their last 15.

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