Shane gives his predictions for each of the 8 postseason matchups as we approach the 2024 NHL Playoffs on April 20, 2024

PLAYOFF HOCKEY! PLAYOFF HOCKEY! BEST TIME OF THE YEAR LETS GOOO!!

Welcome to the 2024 NHL playoff hockey preview. From the sharpest of hogs to the basics of casual, I’ll keep it short and sweet while giving you what you NEED to know. You’re welcome in advance, and let’s all come together for this special time of the year.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

THE BATTLE OF FLORIDA!! It is usually expected to see the Bolts as the best of the “Sunshine State” but Florida has come alive the last couple years, spearheaded by Matthew Tkachuk and Alexander Barkov. Adding to the talent is a steaming hot Sam Reinhart. Gustav Forsling has been incredible on the backend as the young talent helps complement Aaron Ekblad. Add some nastiness with Niko Mikkola and a dash of depth with Vladimir Tarasenko to complete the top lines and 2nd powerplay unit. Combine that with a solid goalie duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz and you have yourself a mean machine. It’s also not bad having Kyle Okposo as a fringe player who is a great leader and can play on any line when healthy.

The underdog Tampa Bay Lightning may be wild cards, but they are probably one of best wild cards to make the postseason. They have championship experience and talent, led by top point scorer in the league Nikita Kucherov. Although Andrei Vasilevsky hasn’t looked as sharp as the former Vezina frontrunner usually looks, the defense in front of him has shifted noticeably since Ryan McDonagh left. Mikhail Sergachev’s injury is proving pivotal as the defense is being carried by Victor Hedman without a legit number 2. Entering the playoffs, Tampa Bay has the forwards, but I see the defense and suspect goalie play struggling, and without some physical play to set the tone, Tampa needs a lot of power plays.

Florida wins and goes on. I think Tampa has too many flaws. Florida can match the skill of Tampa but bring better defense and physicality.

Here we are again as Boston and Toronto meet once more in the playoffs, and both of these rivals have major chips on their shoulders. Boston won the Presidents Trophy last year but were sent home packing in the first round by the Florida Panthers during their Cinderella story campaign to the finals. Toronto on the other hand finally made it past the first round after 19 years of failed attempts. Sure, that’s nice but this team is too good to not make a Stanley Cup run. Austin Matthews is the best goal scorer in the league. William Nylander is elite. Mitch Marner is elite.

Morgan Reilly and John Tavares round out the top lines with experience, talent, and leadership. This is a solid Toronto team that is hungry as hell for a deep playoff run.

Back to Boston, this team crushed the regular season but lacked some steam entering the playoffs as they lost 3 of 4 games before the regular season concluded, letting the #1 seed slip through their paws. David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand will really find out what it’s like to be the main leaders without Patrice Bergeron and David Krecji from last year. A team once loaded with many veterans, now has a youth movement underway. Guys like Trent Frederic must help youngsters like John Beecher and Jakob Lauko find a role. Matthew Poitras was a surprise gem this year when healthy, as he played Bergeron-esqe. Defensively, the stalwarts of Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy are two of the best in the league. The rest of the corps behind Brandon Carlo will have massive pressure on them as this team’s success will rely heavily on them not giving up goals. Especially since Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman do not look in top form as they did last year, which saw Linus win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender.

All eyes are on Toronto for this series as they SHOULD beat the Bruins. The goalies are even this year. Both teams have mediocre defense with solid offense while Toronto sports a deep team that can compete against any style. I highly expect this to go 7 games but in my eyes this series belongs to Toronto.

The Presidents Trophy winners, the team with the most points in the regular season, enter as clear favorites to win this series, and they have the 3rd best odds out of the east to win the Stanley Cup. Artemi Panarin is one of the best in the league, and he is surrounded by experienced dogs who are all firing hot. Vincent Trocheck just had an incredible 2nd season with the Rangers, netting 77 points. Chris Kreider is still a key piece and a monster in front of the net. Alexis Lafreniére has evolved and is finally showing 1st round talent, unlike Kaapo Kakko. The real strength is the defense which has a great mix of skill and physicality led by Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba. This is a complete team as Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick have become one of the best goalie tandems in the league. Quick is having one hell of a resurgence after some tough years in LA.

The Washington Capitals are the biggest underdog in the playoffs this year, but I don’t see the same magic in them as people did with Florida last year, who beat Presidents Trophy winning Boston Bruins. Ovechkin broke 30 goals for the season which is lowest he’s had since 2020. Only three active guys on this roster have more than 40 points for the season. They are going to need a lot of magic and a certain angle if they are going to wiggle a couple wins out of this series, as the Rangers outperform them in every category. With that being said, Charlie Lindgren is playing some of his best hockey, and in the playoffs that’s what you need the most.

For the value you might as well bet the Capitals to try to steal a game or two. Otherwise the Rangers should not only win, but murder, this struggling Capitals group. The net front battles are where the Rangers could do some real damage as that’s a weakness for Capitals while the boys in blue love the net battles.

The Hurricanes enter the playoffs as one of the deepest talented teams, while sporting one of the best goalie tandems in the league with Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov. When healthy, Frederick is one of the best in the league, and having the young bull Pyotr shouldering the workload is very nice. The acquisition of Jake Guentzel from the Pittsburgh Penguins was massive for the offense as he totaled 25 points in 17 games with Carolina. He completes a top line of elite talent with Sebastian Aho and surging Seth Jarvis, who has been red hot. Martin Necas, Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Staal, and Teuvo Teräväinen round out the 2nd and 3rd lines providing offense, physicality, and defense, respectively. They even have Evgeny Kuznetzov stashed on the 4th line hoping he can channel some of that old form. They are defensively stout with Jacob Slavin and Brent Burns who are both warhorses. Not workhorses, WARHORSES. As long as Orlov and Chatfield minimize the turnovers, this team is an APEX HOG.

The New York Islanders are a shining example of a wild card team, as you have no clue what you are going to get. Will Semyon Varlamov go red hot and steal the series since he slightly edged out mediocre Illya Sorokin for the Game 1 start? Can the team produce goals while maintaining some shred of defense, as they allow over 32+ shots against on average per game? Can Noah Dobson with his 70 points as a defenseman shoulder the workload that the back end needs? The former first round pick in 2018 has fully evolved for this team and it couldn’t have come at a better time. This team has the experience and grit to make this a fight if Carolina struggles.

Simply put, Carolina should sweep this team or end the series in Game 5. Carolina is deep with strong goalies. They have crumbled previously but this is the best team they have had so far in their recent playoff runs. The 3-way line or puck line for Carolina should hit every game as the Islanders are highly suspect defensively.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

To me, this is THE heavyweight matchup to watch, as Vegas looks to defend their title against a very strong Dallas Stars team. Dallas is legit. Roope Hintz, Wyatt Johnston, and Jason Robertson are some of the best young players in the game. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Joe Pavelski, and Ryan Suter complete the grizzled group of veterans. Miro Heiskanen is probably one of the best defenseman in the game behind Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar. This team is so solid, and they have a gem in Jake Oettinger who should hold the net for this team for many years.

The Vegas Golden Knights are one of the most solid teams, as at their very creation, they built an amazing foundation with William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Shea Theodore, and Brayden McNabb. Adding Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo greatly boosts the talent of Vegas, while adding to their defensive style. Mark Stone is still hogging around but is hurt currently. If Chandler Stephenson and Noah Hanifin get healthy for this run, this team can not only upset this tough Dallas team, but legitimately push for a back-to-back championship.

The series should be all out war. Every game should go back and forth. I would say Dallas has the early edge due to health and more consistent goalie play. Adin Hill and Logan Thompson have been solid for Vegas, but Jake for Dallas has plenty of capability to steal the series. I literally won’t be able to bet on any game because I have no clue what’s going to happen.

The Winnipeg Jets have been flirting with playoffs for a long time now, rarely finding enough success to get to the Western Conference Final, which they have done only once. A lot of people/analysts love this team but I’m on the opposite side. They are good but not great. Year after year Vezina frontrunner Connor Hellebuyck shows he’s good but not great and that this group around him can’t give him the support he needs. This roster doesn’t say that it’s any different this year. Josh Morrissey is an underrated defenseman who has posted back-to-back 60-point seasons. Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers lead the offense as usual, and each are studs. After that though there is a massive gap with a bunch of names who are underperforming. The Jets need a spark of life behind the first line to be able to make a significant playoff run.

The Colorado Avalanche may have seemed human this season, but Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar have been as elite as ever. As long as these 3 are healthy, this team will always have a chance. Alexander Georgiev has struggled to be consistent this season, so a lot of this team’s success will rest solely on him. This team is deep and returns with a bunch of playoff experience to help them pick up what they lost in Nazim Kadri, as his departure still hurts this team.

Take the Avalanche and the over in every game. There will be lots of goals. There will be some comebacks by Colorado. I highly doubt we will see the Jets evolve to that next level behind this roster that’s missing some serious meat. Especially if Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog comes back, the Avalanche will roll.

I love this Vancouver team. Rick Tochett will probably win the best coach in the NHL (Jack Adams Award), while Quinn Hughes should win best defenseman. JT Miller took all the hate last year and really manifested it into a red-hot season. This team is buzzing and has the right pieces for a fun playoff run. The defense is stacked around Quinn Hughes, as Filip Hronek is proving why he was worth that trade last year. Nikita Zadorov brings that toughness the team lacked last year. Elias Lindholm was a nice addition this season to help solidify the 2nd and 3rd lines. Thatcher Demko put together a great season for a goaltender and hopes to finally carry this momentum into the postseason as he has fanned out previously.

Nashville is built to be an underdog story who can take down top tier teams. Juuse Saros is a workhorse of a goalie, although lacking the elite talent to shut down games. Roman Josi is one of the best defensemen in the game and that’s very easy to say. He is an absolute game changer. If he and the first line of Ryan O’Reilly, Filip Forsberg, and Gustav Nyquist can all play 100%, they are going to give anyone problems. Behind these guys is a collective group of role players who may lack offensive talent but make up for it with physicality and defense. If it becomes a shootout though, the Predators will definitely struggle.

The Predators are praying for close games because if the Canucks score 3, I find it hard to see Nashville keeping up or catching up. The Canucks seem to be buzzing and are able to create lots of opportunities while sporting a deadly powerplay. Nashville cannot take any penalties and must play mistake free hockey to try and salvage a big win here.

Here we are again as the Edmonton Oilers are locked and loaded and ready to push for the Cup with the greatest player in the league – Connor McDavid. Leon Draisaitl joins him to form the best 1-2 combo in the league. This group is so hungry for a cup, and this might be their best chance as Matthias Ekholm completes his first full season with the Oilers. Darnell Nurse desperately needed help on the backend and Matthias not only helps but is the #1 d-man to push this group further. The fact that Darnell Nurse is making $9.5 million has been the craziest thing in hockey ever since he signed that deal. Anyways, Zach Hyman has found a nice role on this unit, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to prove why he’s a first-round talent. Corey Perry has added the grit and toughness that this team has severely needed. The biggest question mark is the same as last year – Can Stuart Skinner finally become a reliable goalie? It’s really Edmonton’s only weakness and has been for awhile.

The Los Angeles Kings enter the playoffs as a dark horse in the west. They have a solid roster of role players who are also defensive minded. Anze Kopitar is a two-way monster and one of the best in the game. Kevin Fiala and Adrian Kempe boost the offense to where it needs to be as they can score and make plays against anybody. Phillip Danault helps solidify the 2nd line as he brings grit, defense, and offense in all zones. Drew Doughty is a workhorse back there, still logging insane time-on-ice numbers. Vladislav Gavrikov has been a great addition as he completes the second pairing, bringing grit and defense above all else. This whole team is prepared to play anybody and could upset these Oilers by capitalizing off turnovers.

Boy oh boy this could go either way. The Oilers SHOULD beat the Kings, but I would be 10% surprised if the Kings handled them easily. Anze Kopitar is still a game changer and the team around him can play some great hockey in all zones. I would easily lean towards over 6.5 in every game though, as neither goalie looks sharp between these powerful squads.

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