2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs Divisional Round Preview

For the first time in a long time, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs lacked much in the way of drama. The favorites tended to coast in their opening round series. The New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, and Edmonton Oilers all made short work of their underdog opponents.

However, Dallas, Boston, and Vancouver each had to survive long series, and that means these three squads will be battle-tested for the much tougher second round. Eight great teams are left standing, and really any of the remaining squads have a plausible path to winning the Stanley Cup.

Personally, I think Dallas and Colorado are facing off for the title in the second round. But whoever survives the titanic Central Division Finals battle will still have two tough series ahead. Meanwhile, Florida made a big statement by knocking out Tampa Bay, and look to be favorites to return to the finals out of the Eastern Conference.

Here’s my previews of the NHL Divisional Finals

Eastern Conference Preview

Atlantic Division Finals

Florida Panthers vs. Boston Bruins

While its series with state rival Tampa Bay was a lot tougher and closer than the results showed, Florida asserted its Sunshine State dominance in the first round. Florida is deep offensively, led by Matthew Tkachuk (team-leading six assists and nine points) and Carter Verhaeghe (team-leading five goals and nine points), and stout defensively led by Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour. But the most important thing the Panthers have going for them is that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (4-1-0, 2.78 GAA, .896 SP) looked nearly unbeatable against the Lightning. He also made the save of the playoffs so far in Game 2. Florida showed no weaknesses against Tampa Bay, and that spells trouble for the Eastern Conference for the second-straight year.

Boston survived a roller coaster against Toronto, dominating the series early on, before falling apart in Games 5 and 6. The Bruins and Maple Leafs staged a memorable Game 7, with Boston’s biggest star, David Pastrnak, coming through with the series-clinching goal in overtime. The Bruins’ biggest strength going into the second round is the play of Jeremy Swayman (4-3-0, 1.49 GAA, .950 SP) in goal. Swayman has been arguably the best goalie of the playoffs so far, and he will have to stay that way for Boston to make a deep run. Captain Brad Marchand (team-leading eight points) was a menace at times against the Leafs, but Boston will need more out of its offensive supporting cast against the deep Panthers. Boston’s best bet might be to keep games low-scoring, relying on defensemen like Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy.

After knocking out Boston in a seven-game upset last spring, Florida will be the heavy favorite for this year’s rematch. The Panthers looked especially strong in the first round, and unless Boston finds its best game quickly, or Swayman steals some games, this series will be over quickly. I’ve got Florida over Boston in five games.

Metropolitan Division Semifinals

New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes

The New York Rangers hardly broke a sweat in the opening round, containing Alex Ovechkin and stifling Washington in a decisive sweep. The Rangers’ top players all got off to a strong start, and most importantly, star forward Artemi Panarin looked engaged against the Capitals. In goal, Igor Shesterkin didn’t see a lot of rubber from Washington, nor did New York’s defense led by Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba. Carolina will challenge both in the second round.

Carolina survived a tougher than expected series against the New York Islanders, and that bodes well for the Hurricanes going forward. Carolina had some adversity, but whenever the Islanders made Carolina sweat, Hurricanes forwards like Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis, and Martin Necas had the answers. The Hurricanes were able to score against the Islanders, but the defensive pressure Carolina will face will be much tougher from the Rangers. Carolina’s vaunted defense and goaltender Frederik Andersen had things pretty easy against the Islanders. It remains to be seen if they can handle the Presidents Trophy winners’ offensive onslaught.

I expect New York and Carolina, clearly the two top teams in the Metropolitan Division, to stage a classic series in the second round. The Rangers can expose Carolina’s weaknesses, but I feel like the relentless Hurricanes can make life miserable on a New York squad that hasn’t faced much adversity all season. I’ve got Carolina surviving and advancing in a seven-game classic over the Rangers.

Western Conference Preview

Central Division Finals

Dallas Stars vs. Colorado Avalanche

While Dallas was clearly the better team against Vegas, the defending champions made life tough on the Stars and pushed them to the brink. Youth was served for Dallas in the first round, and players like Wyatt Johnston (team-leading four goals and seven points), Jason Robertson, and Logan Stankoven were the big reason why the Stars survived. In Game 7, the Stars’ elite veterans stepped up their game, and players like Joe Pavelski and Jamie Benn will need to be at their best against Colorado. They weren’t against the Golden Knights. Goaltender Jake Oettinger (4-3-0, 1.95 GAA, .925 SP) will also need to be stellar against the Avalanche, or he will suffer the same fate as Connor Hellebuyck did under Colorado’s offensive onslaught.

The biggest surprise of the first round was how Colorado steamrolled Winnipeg, scoring five goals in every game of its five-game series win. The Avalanche played at pace the Jets had no answer for and could not slow down. Colorado’s offense, led by Nathan MacKinnon (team-leading nine points), Miko Rantanen (team-leading nine points), Artturi Lehkonen, and Valeri Nichushkin (team-leading seven goals) ran wild. Cale Makar (team-leading nine points) was especially dominant against the Jets, and he had plenty of support from defenders like Josh Manson and Devin Toews. Colorado’s biggest question mark going into the playoffs was goaltending. Dallas will test netminder Alexandar Georgiev (4-1-0, 3.03 GAA, .900 SP) far more than Winnipeg did.

With how Colorado played in the first round, it would be easy to pick the Avalanche as the favorite for the rest of the playoffs. However, Dallas seemed to find another level at times against Vegas, and that bodes well for the NHL’s best team during the regular season. Each team will have its moments in this series, which for me is a battle for the Stanley Cup. However, I’m picking Dallas to handle Colorado’s speed and overcome the Avalanche in seven games.

Pacific Division Finals

Vancouver Canucks vs. Edmonton Oilers

It wasn’t pretty, but Vancouver won a tight checking series against Nashville in the first round. While the Canucks stars aren’t firing on all cylinders yet in the playoffs, Brock Boeser (team-leading four goals and six points) and J.T. Miller (six points) each looked good, as did captain Quinn Hughes. With its top two goalies out, Hughes led a tight-checking effort in front of unheralded goaltender Arturs Silovs. However, Edmonton is on another planet offensively in comparison to Nashville. The second round will show if Silovs is for real against the Oilers. If he struggles, Vancouver will be racing to get injured star Thatcher Demko back in their net.

For the third year in a row, Edmonton knocked out Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs. But this year, the series was notably decisive, and the Oilers stars like Conor McDavid (playoffs-leading 11 assists and 12 points), Leon Draisatl (10 points), Zach Hyman (seven goals), and Evan Bouchard are currently on fire. In goal Stuart Skinner (4-1-0, 2.59 GAA, .910 SP) was not tested much against the Kings, but he put together a signature effort in Game 4, posting a 33-save, 1-0 shutout. Vancouver can nearly match Edmonton as far as offensive star power, but no team can match the Oilers’ vaunted power play. If the Canucks take penalties in the second round, this series will be over quickly.

Much like New York and Carolina, Vancouver and Edmonton will see a significant upgrade of opponents in round two. The Canucks will need to make major adjustments heading into the second round, as the Oilers will throw much more offense their way. I like Edmonton to continue to roll and knock out Vancouver in six games.

The Rest of the Playoffs

Conference Finals

Carolina over Florida in six games

Dallas over Edmonton in six games

2024 Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Dallas over Carolina in seven games

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