Wyshynski: My picks for every series in the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs

NHL

Before each season, I predict who will win the Stanley Cup. I predict who they will defeat for the Stanley Cup.

Both the champion and the runner up from those preseason predictions for 2023-24 qualified for the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. Rather than hedge or waver against that prognostication, I actually see a path for both of them in this tournament. Call it delusional, call it stubborn, call it hubris — I’m sticking with them.

Here is how the Stanley Cup playoffs will play out, from the opening round through the last game of the Final. I apologize in advance for spoiling the next two months for you, as obviously all of this is going to happen exactly to script and none of these picks will be incorrect.

Please enjoy the best postseason tournament in all of sports, no matter how it actually plays out.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND

The Battle of Florida has been lopsided in the postseason, with the Lightning winning both previous meetings in 2021 and 2022, winning eight out of 10 games between the teams. But those were different Lightning teams.

This Lightning team is more top-heavy than ever: There’s a 29-point gap between the team’s fifth and sixth leading scorers. They don’t have injured defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, a key to their blue line. They haven’t had the same Andrei Vasilevskiy they’ve relied on for years to carry them. He missed two months with injury and posted a minus-10.84 goals saved above expected.

If Vasy is Vasy again, there’s always a chance that Tampa Bay’s collection of stars — MVP candidate Nikita Kucherov, defenseman Victor Hedman, center Brayden Point and forward Steven Stamkos — can control a seven-game series. But I think this is where that diminished supporting cast gets exposed.

Sure, the Panthers are a bit top-heavy, too. But they’re deeper down the lineup and significantly better defensively (first in goal-against average) than Tampa Bay (21st).

Winner: Panthers eliminate Lightning in five.


This is going to go one of two ways. The Leafs could skate out for Game 1, see the Spoked-B across the ice, think about the three first-round seven-game series wins the Bruins have against them in the last 11 years, and crumble. Or this series becomes like the one back in 2018, when the Washington Capitals finally overcame their own postseason tormentors, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and that momentum carried them all the way to their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history.

The goaltending matchup is going to get the most attention here, and rightfully so. The Bruins have it; the Leafs might not. The real intrigue is Boston finding a way to stop Toronto’s offense, which was second in the NHL this season (3.63 goals per game).

If they load up with Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm in an attempt to stop Auston Matthews (69 goals), that’s asking a lot from the other pairings against the Leafs’ other lines. While Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha have done a more than admirable job in the middle this season, it’s in the postseason where not having Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci anymore is finally going to be felt.

So, in summary, it’s the latter: The Leafs exorcize their demons, and away they go.

Winner: Maple Leafs eliminate Bruins in six games (because if it goes seven, they’re in trouble).


The only reasons we’re even humoring the Capitals here: Goalie Charlie Lindgren was fifth in the league in goals saved above expected (12.97) and won four of five games down the stretch; and Washington has had an uncanny habit of subverting expectations, making the playoffs after an aggressive bit of selling at the trade deadline.

Yes, the Rangers carry the hex of the Presidents’ Trophy: There have been 37 previous winners for having the league’s best record. Eight of them won the Stanley Cup. Eight of them didn’t make it out of the first round.

But losing to the Capitals — who don’t have the matchup advantages to exploit the Rangers’ shortcomings — would be quite the upset.

Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson have seen that movie before: The Caps won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2010 and then were goalied out of the playoffs by Jaroslav Halak and the Canadiens. That’s the kind of scenario they’d need here — although let’s not sleep on the elite defensive play first-year coach Spencer Carbery has squeezed out of this group.

Winner: Rangers eliminate the Capitals in five.


The Hurricanes won this matchup in six games last season. But those were boring and predictable Lane Lambert Islanders, two terms that could never apply to new coach Patrick Roy. His Islanders generate more scoring chances and prevent fewer form opponents than under Lambert. Roy’s team has been on a heater to end the season, too, winning eight of nine games and giving up two or fewer goals in six of them.

The Islanders are rolling with Semyon Varlamov to start, but it won’t be long before we see Ilya Sorokin.

Of course, Carolina’s a different team, too. Jake Guentzel took their top line from “good” to “preposterously good”: Carolina had an expected goals share of 61% when he was on the ice. (Evgeny Kuznetsov has had less of an impact so far.)

Home-ice swings this thing to the Canes, but the Islanders won’t go quietly. Unfortunately for New York, they don’t get any benefit for overtime losses in the playoffs.

Winner: Hurricanes eliminate the Islanders in five.

EASTERN CONFERENCE SECOND ROUND

Last season, the Panthers rode the momentum of their incredible seven-game stunner over the Bruins to knock out the Leafs in the second round. I think the opposite happens here, with Toronto getting the “we beat Boston!” wind in their sails against Florida.

Every series is an education. The lesson the Leafs must learn during the first round is how to grind out chances in the playoffs against a superior defensive opponent. If Boston is the test to that end, Florida is the final exam. They’re the gold standard in limiting their opponents’ scoring chances and finished as the NHL’s best defense team this season.

The Leafs got down 3-0 in their series against the Cats last season. This whole thing probably swings on whether Toronto can take home-ice advantage away on the road — and if they’ve found a goalie that can keep Sam Reinhart, Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk off the board.

Winner: Maple Leafs in six.


Rangers fans have pointed out once or twice or 3,000 times that the Blueshirts are 5-2-0 against the Hurricanes in the last two regular seasons, as a refutation of my claims that the Hurricanes match up particularly well against them.

But I don’t think that’s a sufficient counterargument against the Hurricanes being the type of team that can exploit the Rangers’ deficiencies at even strength — documented here in a deep dive on them before the playoffs — and hang with them offensively, having finished just 0.01 goals per game behind them this season.

The Rangers’ greatest advantage against any opponent, their power play, was already limited by playoff officiating. But the Hurricanes were the best penalty killing team in the league this season, having limited the Rangers to one goal in 10 power plays during their season series. If anything, special teams is a wash: The Canes were actually slightly better on the PP than the Rangers this season (26.9% to 26.4%) while the Rangers were third on the kill.

While the Rangers have the advantage in goal, I don’t think it’ll be enough to swing the series.

Winner: Hurricanes in six.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

The last time the Maple Leafs were in the conference final, Devils coach Travis Green was their 10th leading scorer and Tie Domi, father of current Leafs winger Max Domi, led them with 157 penalty minutes. Oh, and the Carolina Hurricanes dumped them in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The fifth leading scorer on that team? Current Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour. Time is a flat circle.

It’s hard to even conceive what the frenzy in Toronto might look like if they made the penultimate round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but we’re going to find out. The Hurricanes are going to be an incredibly difficult out based on the way they play, their overall depth and the kind of shutdown options they have at forward and on the blue line. For Toronto to win, they’re going to have to find a few heroes that aren’t in the Core Four to score a big goal at a critical time. That’s how playoff legends are made.

If the Leafs are going to play for the Stanley Cup as I’ve predicted, it’s going to be in a series that looks a lot like the one the Panthers had against Carolina: Tightly played one-bounce games in which the Maple Leafs find a way while the Hurricanes are still searching for that one goal to tip the series.

Winner: Maple Leafs in six.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND

It’s possible that the defending Stanley Cup champions’ playoff fate might have been sealed by the Anaheim Ducks. In Game 82 of the regular season, the Ducks defeated the Knights in Las Vegas, which combined with the Los Angeles Kings‘ overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks gave L.A. the third seed in the Pacific. Instead of facing the Edmonton Oilers, who they solved last season in the semifinals, the Knights drew the Stars, who they defeated in the conference final in a series that featured three overtime games.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but Vegas’ success here comes down to players that were too injured to appear at the end of the regular season returning to their lineup for the playoffs — and if their goaltending answers the bell. In the former case, it’s getting forwards Mark Stone and William Carrier back in; in the latter, it’s whether Logan Thompson is ready to make a mark in the postseason. He could see more action here than 2023 playoff hero Adin Hill, despite not having appeared in the playoffs yet.

The Knights added Tomas Hertl, Anthony Mantha and Noah Hanifin at the trade deadline. They’re going to be a very, very difficult team to eliminate. But even with those additions, they don’t have the depth that Dallas does, at least up front. The Stars have shown they can match Vegas bludgeon-for-bludgeon. But I think they win here because of the reemergence of goaltender Jake Oettinger‘s elite game at the right time, with a dash of revenge for last season’s loss.

Fun fact: Dallas Coach Peter DeBoer has either coached against or coached for the Golden Knights in four of Vegas’ five trips to the playoffs.

Winner: Stars win in six games over the Golden Knights.


This is the pick with the highest degree of difficulty. This is either going to be one of the most epic battles of the playoffs, or we’re completely wrong about the Jets, and they’re going to get flattened under a Nathan MacKinnon steamroller.

On paper, this is a classic confrontation: The Jets tied the Panthers for the fewest goals against per game in the NHL this season (2.41). The Avalanche finished with the league’s best offense (3.68). It’s MacKinnon’s goals vs. Connor Hellebuyck‘s saves, and may the best MVP candidate win.

The Jets have had an uptick in quality in the last couple of weeks, looking like the analytics darling that snuck up on the Central. Meanwhile, there’s something slightly off about this Avalanche team. Maybe it’s Cale Makar not being quite as dominant this season, or the middling even-strength team defense. There’s no mystery when it comes to their goaltending, as Alexandar Georgiev was substandard in the regular season after getting outplayed in last postseason.

It’s hard to imagine the Avalanche going out in the first round in consecutive seasons, especially when MacKinnon is playing well enough to will his team to victory on his own. But I like the Jets’ defense, I love their home-ice advantage, and I think they advance.

Winner: Jets in seven games over the Avalanche.


Even more than the Battle of Florida over the East, this series has the highest chance for a potential upset.

The Predators finally unlocked themselves offensively around midseason. For the final 25 games, they were first in expected goals and controlled 57% of the expected goals in that span, according to Stathletes. Only the Dallas Stars were better.

Where Vancouver is clearly superior is on the defensive end, where coach Rick Tocchet transformed this group into one of the league’s stingiest teams, ranking in the top five in expected goals against all season. Goalie Thatcher Demko was the backbone for all of it, and he might have skated away with this first Vezina Trophy this season had it not been for Hellebuyck getting the lion’s share of the credit for the Jets’ season.

Whether Juuse Saros can equal that performance might be where the series tips, and he’s quietly rounded into form in the last few weeks of the season. He hasn’t played in the postseason since 2021, but he’s got some incredibly good playoff numbers on his resumé.

I don’t like the lack of secondary scoring for the Canucks as the season’s gone on. I don’t like where their power play is. I don’t like the fact that the weight of the series is on them to win it, as they take on a team with frankly nothing to lose — and a couple of guys in Roman Josi and Ryan O’Reilly whom I’d trust to win.

I would feel a lot better about this if coach Andrew Brunette would schedule and then cancel a trip to see U2 before Game 1 of the series, but I’m still calling it.

Winner: Predators eliminate the Canucks in seven.


I have a theory about the new Taylor Swift double album.

It was created during The Eras Tour. With so much routine — the rehearsals, the setlist, etc. — she still had a creative energy that needed to manifest. But crafting lyrics and creating a whole new sonic landscape, those are two different muscles, and her muscles were exhausted with the Eras Tour prep. So she writes songs for the new album with incredible lyrics, but she uses a familiar soundscape created with trusted producers, resembling both “Midnights” and the “1989” vault tracks. Sometimes, to guarantee success, you just go with what you know.

The Edmonton Oilers have all the pressure in the playoffs on them. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are seeking their first Stanley Cup wins, having rededicated themselves and the team to that effort after last season’s loss to Vegas. Stathletes has them with the best statistical chance of winning the Cup (12.5%). It’s a lot to handle.

The good news is that, like Swift, they can go with what they know: Beating the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Kings have a good mix of veteran players, young standouts and however we’d describe Pierre-Luc Dubois these days. They’ve succeeded under Jim Hiller in the standings after he replaced Todd McLellan at the All-Star break, but their underlying numbers reveal a team that doesn’t defend as well, and is one of the playoffs’ most meager offensive teams. While their traditional stats look good, the Kings’ goaltending battery might be one of the few in the playoffs where the Oilers have the edge.

Edmonton defeated the Kings in seven games two years ago and six last season. They’ll beat them again this postseason. Los Angeles knows it all too well.

Winner: Oilers eliminate the Kings in five games.

WESTERN CONFERENCE SECOND ROUND

The “Rick Bowness seeks his revenge against Dallas” series.

“Bones” led the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final in the COVID bubble playoffs as an interim coach, missed the playoffs the following season and then lost in the first round. They replaced him with DeBoer, and the oldest head coach in the NHL moved on to Winnipeg. Now 69 years old, Bowness leads the Jets into what could be a taxing, grinding series against his old team.

Besides being filled to the brim with veteran players seeking their first Stanley Cup rings, the series also features an awesome goaltending duel between Oettinger and Hellebuyck, two goalies that are in the conversation for Team USA Olympic starter in 2026.

This series will not set scoring records, but it won’t lack for drama, either.

Winner: Stars in seven.


The Oilers get the road cleared of the Pacific Division champs thanks to the Predators’ upset of the Canucks. Brunette’s team skates like the wind and has some players that could make life challenging for McDavid and Draisaitl.

But this is a spot where the Edmonton supporting cast makes a difference in the series, as Nashville’s upstart postseason run ends in the conference semifinals.

Winner: Oilers in five.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Along with this bracket, the picks and prognostications from ESPN’s hockey fam will be available soon. I imagine you’ll find more than a few of them have thrown their support behind the Dallas Stars as the Western Conference champions as well as the Stanley Cup.

Logic would dictate that might happen. Dallas has unmatched depth at forward, some terrific defenders who can handle McDavid and Draisaitl, and that chef’s kiss recipe of savvy veterans (Joe Pavelski, Matt Duchene, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin) combined with in-their-prime standouts (Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz) and impactful young players (Wyatt Johnston). Oh, and also Jake Oettinger.

Look, there isn’t some secret analytics case I’m going to make here for the Oilers, or some fatal flaw I can point to on the Stars. Dallas is demonstrably the best team in the West. If Edmonton is going to prove my prediction correct, it’s going to be on McDavid and Draisaitl to do what they’ve managed to do in the past, which is drag the Oilers by the scruff of their necks into the next round.

Winner: Oilers in six.

STANLEY CUP FINAL

The Toronto Maple Leafs try to win the first Stanley Cup since 1967, and all that’s standing in their way is the best player in the world — if he is in fact the best player in the world, as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have the Gretzky vs. Mario final we never got to see.

Meanwhile, all of Canada picks sides as hockey’s answer to the Dallas Cowboys (when it comes to overexposure and divisiveness) seeks to finally plan the parade. How does someone in Calgary even attempt to figure out whom to root for here?

Now that’s a narrative for the Final.

In the end, we have to go with the Oilers. Home ice matters, and they earned it by finishing two points ahead of the Leafs in the standings. Edmonton will be bruised and battered after the Western Conference playoffs, but will have enough to cross the finish line.

Why the Oilers? My first thought is that a team with two generational talents on the same roster is going to figure out how to win the whole thing at some point: Like Mario and Jagr, Sakic and Forsberg, Crosby and Malkin all did.

But the reason the Oilers made it this far, why they’re going to win the Cup: They’ve reached a point of utter disgust over falling short in the playoffs.

MacKinnon had to get there before the Avalanche won. McDavid and Draisaitl got there last season.

At the NHL Players Media Tour, I asked Draisaitl whether he has reached that MacKinnon moment.

“I certainly have those moments,” he said. “We’ve been at it for a while now. We’ve had some competitive, good teams over the last couple years. And it feels like we’re really close and we’re right there. I’m ready to win. I want to win.”

Win they will, for the first time since 1990. In Game 6. On the road in Toronto. Because if the Leafs are going out, it’d have to be like that.

Winner: Oilers in six over the Maple Leafs.

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