2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview

After a tumultuous 2023-24 regular season that saw a wild race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, and the Arizona Coyotes’ ongoing saga finally getting resolved with the franchise’s relocation to Utah, the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us.

The Vegas Golden Knights, last year’s Stanley Cup winner, stumbled into the playoffs but could still be dangerous thanks to its usual slew of postseason reinforcements led by captain Mark Stone. Fellow 2023 finalist Florida endured a late season skid of its own, but still managed to claim the Atlantic Division.

The New York Rangers finished with the best record in the NHL after the regular season, but that seems a bit tainted. The Metropolitan Division was clearly the league’s worst division this year, as both the Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes mopped up their weaker rivals.

The favorites for the Stanley Cup reside in the Central Division. Both Dallas and 2022 title-winner Colorado seemed primed for deep runs. However, both teams must survive brutal opening round series, against Vegas and Winnipeg respectively, just to set up a titanic matchup in the second round. With the Golden Knights routing through the Central, the path through the Pacific Division is wide open. The opportunity has never been better for Edmonton and Connor McDavid to finally make a Cup run.

My pick is Dallas to capture its second Stanley Cup over Carolina. Florida, the New York Rangers, Colorado, and Edmonton all look like legit title contenders. With the field wide open, it should be a fantastic postseason.

Eastern Conference Preview

Atlantic Division Semifinals

1. Florida Panthers (52-24-6) vs. 1WC. Tampa Bay Lightning (45-29-8)

Despite a slew of injuries to start the season, Florida emerged as the winner of the top-heavy Atlantic Division. The Panthers are one of the NHL’s most versatile teams, playing with offense led by Sam Reinhart (team-leading 94 points) and Aleksander Barkov (80 points), grit as personified by Matthew Tkachuk (team-leading 62 assists), a strong defense led by Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour, and stellar goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky (36-17-4, 2.37 GAA, and .915 save percentage).

Tampa Bay is no longer the dominant team in the East, but after an early postseason exit last spring, the Lightning are still dangerous. Nikita Kucherov posted an NHL-leading 144-point season, and he gets plenty of help from captain Steven Stamkos and a healthy Brayden Point (team-leading 46 goals). Tampa Bay features an excellent defense led by Victor Hedman, and a goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy (30-20-2, 2.90, .900) who knows how to win it all.

The long-awaited rematch in the battle of Florida commences as these two rivals should be primed for the best series of the first round. I like the Panthers to survive the Lightning in seven games, but I would not at all be surprised if the experienced Lightning upset Florida and go on a deep run.

2. Boston Bruins (47-20-15) vs. 3. Toronto Maple Leafs (46-26-10)

With its top two centers retiring, Boston was expected to take a step back in the Atlantic Division this season. However, a new core emerged around captain Brad Marchand, led by sniper David Pastrnak who found another level offensively (posting a 47-goal and 110-point season). The Bruins are not as deep as they have been in past years, but its defense, anchored by Charlie McAvoy, remains elite. Boston also has two goalies capable of backstopping deep playoff runs in Jeremy Swayman (25-10-8, 2.53, .916) and Linus Ullmark (22-10-7, 2.58, .915).

Toronto has been riddled by injuries all season, but its big four forwards delivered offensively. Auston Matthews was one of the stories of the season, posting an NHL-leading 69 goals, while William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares were all strong contributors. Morgan Reilly seemed to find another gear on the blue line, but the Maple Leafs still have holes on their backend, especially in goal. Vulnerable Ilya Samsonov will likely get the first chance to carry the mail in net for the playoffs.

Neither the Bruins or the Maple Leafs look poised for a deep run. If there was ever a year for Toronto to get its Boston albatross off its back, it would be this one, but I just don’t see it happening. I like the Bruins to advance in seven games over Toronto.

Metropolitan Division Semifinals

3. New York Rangers (55-23-4) vs. 2WC. Washington Capitals (40-31-11)

The New York Rangers led the Metropolitan Division from start to finish, riding the wave of its star forward Artemi Panarin (team-leading 49 goals and 120 points). The Rangers aren’t especially deep offensively, but they have an enviable blue line led by Adam Fox, Erik Gustafsson, and K’Andre Miller. Igor Shesterkin (36-17-2, 2.58, .913) was shaky at times during the season, but he certainly has the pedigree to lead a deep playoff run.

Washington is the surprise team in the Eastern Conference playoffs — especially as a squad that finished with an awful minus-37 goal differential. The Capitals beat out Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia for the final berth through determination and an ability to bounce back after poor performances. With its stars aging, Washington lacks its usual elite offense, but Alex Ovechkin still managed a 31-goal campaign. He and the talented Dylan Strome play in front of John Carlson, one of the league’s best two-way defenders. In goal, Charlie Lindgren (25-16-7, 2.67 GAA, .911) has been one of the league’s best surprises. He will have to be at his best for Washington to do any postseason damage.

The Rangers should cruise past plucky Washington. New York is the better team in all facets of the game, so I would expect the Rangers to oust the Capitals in five short games.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (52-23-7) vs. 3. New York Islanders (39-27-16)

Carolina stumbled a bit at the start of the season, but the Hurricanes look poised for a long postseason after a strong finish. Sebastian Aho remains the team leader offensively (team-leading 36 goals and 89 points), but he has plenty of help in Seth Jarvis, Martin Necas, and deadline acquisition Jake Guentzel. The Hurricanes’ defense is stout, while either Frederik Andersen or Pyotr Kochetkov look like go-to options in goal for the playoffs.

The Islanders are a squad with a lot of talented pieces but seem to be lacking an identity. New York started scoring more this season, led by Brock Nelson’s 34 goals, and Mathew Barzal’s team-leading 80 points. Noah Dobson (team-leading 60 assists) also made big strides on the blue line, but the Islanders were surprisingly vulnerable in their own zone. Neither goaltender Ilya Sorokin or Semyon Varlamov stood out, but I would expect Varlamov to get the first shot in goal against the Hurricanes.

Carolina may struggle to expose New York’s defensive issues, but the Hurricanes are a far deeper squad than the Islanders. I like the Hurricanes to dismantle the Islanders in five games.

Western Conference Preview

Central Division Semifinals

1. Dallas Stars (52-21-9) vs. 2WC. Vegas Golden Knights (45-29-8)

Dallas enters the playoffs playing dominant hockey. The Stars have all the ingredients of a Cup winner, from an excellent offense, led by Jason Robertson (team-leading 80 points), to an elite defense led by Miro Heiskanen. In its back pocket is a proven playoff goaltender in Jake Oettinger (35-14-4, 2.72 GAA, .905 SP). There aren’t many weaknesses for the Stars and that spells trouble for Dallas’ opponents.

The Stars likely expected to have to dethrone Vegas en route to winning the Stanley Cup, but not in the first round. Vegas has struggled at times to score, but Jonathan Marchessault (team-leading 42 goals) and Jack Eichel each turned in strong seasons. The Golden Knights’ defense is as strong as ever, but top defender Alex Pietrangelo has had injury issues. The biggest concern for Vegas is in goal. Neither last year’s Cup-winning backstop Adin Hill or Logan Thompson has played great. That might be the ace-in-the-hole that the Golden Knights won’t have in these playoffs.

Vegas is a brutal first round opponent for Dallas, but I believe too much in the Stars to be too concerned. I’ll take the Stars over the Golden Knights in six games.

2. Winnipeg Jets (52-24-6) vs. 3. Colorado Avalanche (50-25-7)

Winnipeg contended for the Central Division, before fading a bit late in the year. However, it is hard not to like this year’s version of the Jets, a balanced squad anchored by the NHL’s best goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck (37-19-4, 2.39 GAA, .921 SP). Led by Josh Morrissey (team-leading 59 assists), the Jets are arguably the league’s best defensive team, but Mark Scheifele (team-leading 72 points) and Kyle Connor (team-leading 34 goals in 65 games) can certainly score.

For me, Nathan MacKinnon (team-leading 51 goals and 140 points) was the NHL’s MVP this season, and is just one part of Colorado’s vaunted three-headed monster along with Mikko Rantanen and likely Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar (90 points). The Avalanche are a deeper squad than last year, but Colorado has big concerns in goal. Alexander Georgiev (38-18-5, 3.02 GAA, .897) will likely get the first shot in net, but he will be on a short leash.

I expect this series to go the distance, and to be very physical, with two elite teams duking it out. Colorado has more offensive firepower, and I think that will be the difference in the Avalanche winning a seven-game series over Winnipeg.

Pacific Division Semifinals

1. Vancouver Canucks (50-23-9) vs. 1WC. Nashville Predators (47-30-5)

Vancouver went from out of the playoffs the past two seasons to first place in the Pacific Division. The Canucks got there on the back of elite goaltending in Thatcher Demko (35-15-2, 2.45 GAA, .918 SP) and a well-balanced offense. J.T. Miller (team-leading 103 points), Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser (team-leading 40 goals) all had fine seasons, while the Canucks’ blue line, led by Quinn Hughes (team-leading 75 assists) and Filip Hronek, was exceptional too.

While Washington surprised in the East, Nashville came out of nowhere to storm into the playoffs in the Western Conference. A big reason was the Predators’ surprising 18-game points streak late in the season that left its rivals eating its dust. The Predators are a team transitioning to its impressive youth, but Filip Forsberg (team-leading 48 goals and 94 points) and Roman Josi (team-leading 62 assists) remain the team’s stalwarts. Trade rumors swirled around goaltender Juuse Saros (35-25-4, 2.86 GAA, .906 SP) all season, but Saros is a big reason why Nashville is back in the playoffs this season.

Young Nashville will push Vancouver throughout the first round, making the Canucks work for the wins they get. I think Demko will be the difference in the series, with Vancouver moving on in six games.

2. Edmonton Oilers (49-27-6) vs. 3. Los Angeles Kings (44-27-11)

Edmonton endured a horrendous start to the season, but after a coaching change, the Oilers went on a heater for the ages just before the All-Star break. The Oilers look like the clear favorite to come out of the Pacific Division, led by Connor McDavid (team-leading 132 points), Leon Draisaitl, and net front star Zach Hyman (team-leading 54 goals). While the Oilers aren’t great defensively or in goal, Edmonton seems to have more depth this year, and that might help McDavid and company overcome some of its past playoff issues.

Los Angeles was another team riding on a rollercoaster all season, and now seems to be figuring things out going into the playoffs. The Kings aren’t elite in any aspect of the game, but Adrian Kempe (team-leading 75 points), Kevin Fiala (team-leading 29 goals), and Anze Kopitar can score, while Drew Doughty can certainly defend. Los Angeles reclaimed Cam Talbot (27-20-6, 2.50 GAA, .913 SP), but goaltending is not a strength for the Kings.

In two straight playoffs Edmonton has eliminated Los Angeles in tight series, and I don’t see anything changing this year. The Oilers have their holes, but their elite offense is a bad matchup for Los Angeles. Therefore, I expect the Oilers to score their way to a five-game series win over the Kings.

The Rest of the Playoffs

Division Finals

Florida over Boston in five games

Carolina over New York in seven games

Dallas over Colorado in seven games

Edmonton over Vancouver in six games

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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