Stanley Cup Playoffs: Team Preview

Las Vegas Golden Knights Goalie Robin Lehner in match against New York Rangers. January 6, 2022. (slgckgc/flickr)

The National Hockey League’s 2024 season is coming to a close, and that means it’s time for playoff hockey. Sixteen teams have qualified for the postseason, and all of them are facing down four brutal rounds of best-of-seven series. Which of these teams will make it through, get sixteen wins, and take the Stanley Cup home?

Eastern Conference:

New York Rangers (1st in Metropolitan): The Rangers enter the playoffs after winning the President’s Trophy, leading the league with a 55-23-4 record and 114 points. Artemi Panarin had a career-best year, finishing fourth in league scoring with 49-71–120 points. This team lacks a superstar, but they work as a cohesive whole and have dominated playoff-level opponents recently. The President’s Trophy is known to have a curse, but the Rangers look to repeat 1994 and win both the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same year.

Florida Panthers (1st in Atlantic): The Panthers look to avenge a close Cup Final loss and appear poised to do just that. Where last year they had to make their way through the playoffs as the final wild card and ultimate underdog, this season the Panthers have been a consistent playoff team and led the league for some time. Last year they shocked the world; can they avoid cracking under the pressure this season?

Carolina Hurricanes (2M): The Hurricanes are a terrifying machine and were a contender to win the Metro division right until the end of the season. Adding a consistent point-per-game forward in Jake Guentzel and a former Cup winner in Evgeny Kuznetsov at the trade deadline puts more weapons in their forward core, while their defense is top five in the league. Will this finally be the Hurricanes’ year to bring the Cup to Carolina?

Boston Bruins (2A): No one expected the Bruins to be here after their longtime captain Patrice Bergeron retired coming into the season, but they have proven unflappable and once again find themselves comfortably seeded for the playoffs. After falling out in the first round of last year’s playoffs in a shock upset, the Bruins—now captained by Brad Marchand—look to get their revenge on the league and make a deep run.

Toronto Maple Leafs (3A): The Leafs have been a hard-luck franchise for decades now, but their current core appears to have turned it around. Star center Auston Matthews leads the league this season with 69 goals, the most goals a player has scored in a season this century. This team is unstoppable on offense, but defense is their big weakness, and in the playoffs, defense is king. Can Matthews score enough goals to get the Leafs deep into the bracket?

New York Islanders (3M): The Islanders slide into the playoffs after changing their coach in the middle of the season. They’ve been inconsistent throughout the season, but their new coach, Patrick Roy, former NHL goalie and Cup champion, has helped this team turn a corner and play with the urgency needed for the playoffs. They’ve been overlooked so far this year, and they’re hoping the Hurricanes haven’t been paying attention.

Tampa Bay Lightning (1st Wild Card): Don’t be fooled by their wild card status—the Bolts are a legitimate contender. Nikita Kucherov is having a career year, scoring 44-100–144 points to become the highest-scoring player in the NHL this season, and though the team around him has struggled, Kucherov and usual linemates Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos can quickly take command of a game. Can the Lightning make a charge as the underdogs?

Washington Capitals (WC2): A myriad of teams were in contention for this spot all the way down to the very end of the season. Ultimately, the Capitals took the spot in their final game of the year. They continue to follow captain Alex Ovechkin who, despite being 38 years old, has managed another 30-goal season. The team around him has rallied in the final few games to crack their competitive window open for one last playoff push.


New York Rangers (1M) vs Washington Capitals (WC2)

Florida Panthers (1A) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (WC1)

Carolina Hurricanes (2M) vs New York Islanders (3M)

Boston Bruins (2A) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (3A)

Western Conference:

Dallas Stars (1st in Central): Dallas has become a machine in recent years under a surge of young talent and the veteran leadership of Joe Pavelski. Many have Dallas as their Cup favorite this year, and the team has looked dominant over the late stretch of the season, pulling away from several top contenders to win the West. However, they’ve looked good in the regular season before and ended up burned with an early playoff exit. Can the Stars finally put it all together and get the playoff wins that have been tantalizingly out of reach?

Vancouver Canucks (1st in Pacific): For years the Canucks have languished as a team that was never good enough to make the playoffs and never bad enough to draft generational talents. That narrative has been flipped this year as Vancouver has been a top five team all year and breezed their way into the playoffs. Quinn Hughes led the league’s defensemen with 17-75–95 points, and if he continues firing on all cylinders, this team can absolutely take home a title.

Winnipeg Jets (2C): Winnipeg surged onto the scene this year on the back of the league’s best defense and incredible goaltending by Connor Hellebuyck who led the league’s starting goalies in goals against average and in save percentage (2.38 and 0.922, respectively). The Jets allowed fewer goals against than any other team in the league—and solid defense is crucial come playoff time. Can Hellebuyck carry the Jets to a Cinderella ending?

Edmonton Oilers (2P): After a painfully slow 2-9-1 start, Edmonton has soared with a 16-game winning streak in the middle of the season and an incredible year for perennial all-star Connor McDavid who became the fourth player in NHL history to record 100 assists in a season (32-100–132). So long as McDavid keeps up, and so long as Zach Hyman keeps scoring goals from McDavid’s passes, this team can go anywhere.

Colorado Avalanche (3C): The 2022 champs storm into the playoffs on the back of a career year for Nathan MacKinnon who scored an incredible 51-89–140 points and will be a contender for league MVP. MacKinnon is surrounded by talent, including the league’s perennial top defenseman, Cale Makar, and top point-per-game forward, Mikko Rantanen. The Avs offense leads the league with 304 goals. If they keep the scoring up, this team should scare the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings (3P): The Kings are a solid all-around team that emphasizes shutdown defense, letting up the third fewest goals of any team this season. Some call their play style boring; others call it smart defense and exactly what a team needs for playoff success. They’ve crashed out in the first round for two straight years, and they’ll be hoping that this is the year they can finally kick that habit and make a deep run. 

Nashville Predators (1st Wild Card): The Predators were average for much of the year, but have become hot at just the right time, going on an 18-game points streak late in the season. They’ll have a tough road as a wild card. They’ve cooled off since that streak ended in late March, but the Preds are a team with both the ability to go far and the confidence that they can win. In the playoffs, that’s a good combination to have.

Vegas Golden Knights (WC2): The defending Cup winners have struggled this year, but they locked themselves into the playoffs with a week remaining in the regular season. The Knights have only missed the playoffs once in their first seven seasons and have made two Cup finals led by an endless wave of talent from all star forward Jack Eichel and phenom goaltender Adin Hill. If this team doesn’t make noise in the playoffs, it will be a letdown.


Dallas Stars (1C) vs Vegas Golden Knights (WC2)

Vancouver Canucks (1P) vs Nashville Predators (WC1)

Winnipeg Jets (2C) vs Colorado Avalanche (3C)

Edmonton Oilers (2P) vs Los Angeles Kings (3P)

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