Five Questions For the NHL’s Second Half

The Olympic hockey tournament is halfway over, and as we enter into the elimination medal rounds, we're also only about a week away from the return of NHL hockey. That means that the trade deadline and stretch run are on deck, and we can expect to hit the ground running. What are the big storylines running through the remainder of the 2013-14 season? Let's take a look.

Will the Tampa Bay Lightning thrive with the return of Steven Stamkos?

The Lightning survived the horrific broken leg of their best player and leading scorer, pushing to a solid second-place standing behind balanced scoring and the rise of goaltender Ben Bishop. Tampa accomplished this with an all-hands approach. However, it's human nature to exhale just a little bit when you get to the finish line — in this case, it's the return of Stamkos. It's up to coach Jon Cooper to make sure that the entire roster keeps the intensity up when No. 91 returns to the lineup.

How dangerous is a healthy San Jose Sharks team?

The San Jose Sharks flew out of the gate despite having injuries throughout the lineup. As the season progress, the injury report got worse and worse, so much so that there was a point not too long ago when the team was missing seven of its regular forwards (Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Martin Havlat, Tommy Wingels, Raffi Torres, and Tyler Kennedy). While rookie Tomas Hertl may be out for the remainder of the year, the Sharks should get top liner Logan Couture back while the rest of the walking wounded have come back one by one. With the roster nearly fully restored, it's time to see what the real Sharks team is capable of — and whether October was a fluke.

Can the Anaheim Ducks keep it up?

From November until the Olympic break, the Anaheim Ducks were pretty much the class of the NHL. Though they tailed off a little bit in their final 10 games, the Ducks have paced themselves to win the Presidents' Trophy and set the expectations high for Ryan Getzlaf and company. With a diverse, deep attack and perhaps the best goaltending tandem in the league, Anaheim is remarkably dangerous. The only question is whether or not they peaked too early.

Will injuries do in the Detroit Red Wings?

Injuries are the story of this Detroit Red Wings season. Pavel Datsyuk is far from 100% and Henrik Zetterberg had to pull out of the Olympics. Already hovering around .500 for much of the season, the Wings are in dangerous waters. Last year, a late-season winning streak extended their run of consecutive playoff seasons. With their two best forwards ailing, is it time for Hockeytown to take a break from the post-season?

Who will rise above the pack in the Eastern Conference?

The new playoff format breaks things down into divisions but the bottom line is this — when you look at a points-per-game perspective seven teams are essentially battling for the bottom playoff spots out east. At a time like this, all it takes is one hot run to leap above the pack, then essentially .500 play to maintain it. Similarly, one extended losing streak could spell doom. While there's still some intrigue in the Western Conference, the Eastern Conference is going to be a wild ride to the end.

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