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The second day of the 2024 NHL playoffs has arrived and the HabsWorld writers made their prognostications on who will advance to the next round. These series begin April 21st and 22nd.

Eastern Conference

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Brian La Rose predicts: Panthers in 7 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Panthers in 5 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Lightning in 6 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Panthers in 7 games

(Brian) Six weeks ago, I would have picked Florida in five and thought I might have been generous.  But since then, the Lightning have been one of the top teams in the league and the Panthers have struggled.  From an entertainment perspective, I think this may be the best one to watch as these two teams really don’t like each other and there’s plenty of skill to go around.  I’m going with the more talented team in what’s pretty much a toss-up series but this could easily go the other way.

(Kevin) Everyone I know is making fun of the Leafs for the last-minute switch between the Panthers and Bruins, but I think the big loser in the exchange is the Lightning. I think the Lightning were well constructed to handle the Bruins, but not so much the Panthers. The Panthers and Bruins are similar offensively in that they are deep but ultimately rely on a few key pieces. But the Panthers are a much sounder defensive team, and that spells trouble for a Tampa team that relies on its offence much more than its ability to play team defence this season. I give Tampa the edge offensively, but it’s Florida in a landslide defensively, so unless Vasilevskiy has a miracle run in him, I think the Panthers make short work of the Lightning this year.

(Norm) Last year the Panthers were the Cinderella team, one that barely made it to the playoffs after their last regular season game with help from another team defeating their close rival Pittsburgh. This year Florida made strides as a team, rising to third place in the East, and tied for the fifth-best overall record. Florida’s leading scorer Sam Reinhart had a career season, potting 57 goals and 94 points. Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov both broke the 80-point mark. Their blueline squad is led by Gustav Forsling, a steady player who has averaged forty points over the past two seasons. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky had a very strong season to bounce back from a subpar 2022-23 campaign.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think Tampa will cause an upset in this match. Tampa has not put together as strong a season this time around. However, they have been red hot over the last six weeks of the season. This veteran squad is led by Nikita Kucherov, who had an MVP-level season with 144 points to lead the NHL. Kucherov was 54 points ahead of teammate Brayden Point. Despite missing former Hab Mikhail Sergachev to a season-ending fractured leg, Victor Hedman took on the extra responsibility.

(Oren) The Panthers made it all the way to the finish line last year—only to fall to the cap-chaotic Golden Knights. The NHL has since acted on teams that, like the Bolts a few years ago, exploited the cap space by using the injured reserve system. However, this series is one to watch. Led by league-leading scorer Kucherov and a supporting cast of future Hall of Famers, the Lightning will undoubtedly fight tooth and nail to advance past their Floridian neighbors to the south. Yet, with a type of grit tailor-made for such matchups, I give the edge to the Panthers in this grudge match.

New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals

Brian La Rose predicts: Rangers in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Rangers in 4 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Rangers in 7 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Rangers in 6 games

(Brian) Good for Washington for clawing their way back into it in the second half thanks to Alex Ovechkin rediscovering his scoring touch and former Hab Charlie Lindgren leading the way in net.  But there’s a reason this team has a -37 goal differential – they’re just not all that good.  If there’s a series that ends in a sweep, it’s probably this one but Igor Shesterkin has been a bit inconsistent at times which could give the Capitals a single victory.

(Kevin) So, you didn’t lose as much as the other teams and find yourself in the final playoff spot of the Eastern Conference. Congrats, Capitals. You get four more games against the well-oiled Presidents’ Trophy winner, including two home games to make your boss happy. Then, it’s golf season. The Rangers come into the series being better in every single facet of play. Only the Rangers can beat the Rangers in this series.

(Norm) The Capitals had a great turnaround during the regular season, after missing the playoffs last season. They did have a rough start to their first month under a new head coach. I thought then Washington was going to be in the running for a top draft lottery position. In November, they got on a five-game winning streak, to bounce back. The rest of the season they yoyoed back and forth, with two six-game losing streaks, but finished the season strong winning three in a row. Their leading scorer was Dylan Strome with 67 points, two points ahead of Alex Ovechkin. Lindgren had a stellar season for the Capitals in goal, seizing the number one starter role.

The Rangers are a very balanced team. On paper, they boast a strong offensive group, with five players scoring more points than Washington’s leading scorer. Artemi Panarin led the way with 120 points. Adam Fox led their back end, averaging a point per game. This team made careful acquisitions at the trade deadline to boost their depth; forward Alex Wennberg took over the third-line centre position from injured Filip Chytil and performed well. In goal, the team boasts steady backstops Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick. The Capitals play a very persistent game, which will benefit them in the postseason. They will surprise New York with a few wins, but the Rangers’ overall talent will prevail to lead them into the next round.

(Oren) The Rangers are packing heat, and it’s not a throwback to the salary cap-exempt days of Adam Graves and Mike Richter. Today’s squad, slicing through opponents at Madison Square Garden, boasts a vibrant mix of youth, skill, and sheer power—poised to swiftly dismantle the well-guarded Capitals. Will Lindgren’s spectacular goaltending translate to playoff success? Perhaps, but let’s face it—the Capitals might just be relieved if this series wraps up quickly.

Western Conference

Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights

Brian La Rose predicts: Stars in 7 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Stars in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Stars in 5 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Golden Knights in 7 games

(Brian) Dallas was on my short-list for the early season Cup contender so I can’t pick them to lose in the first round.  Yes, Vegas is way stronger than a typical Wild Card team but the Stars are one of the most well-rounded teams in the league.  They’re also a team that’s battle-tested and has the depth to go toe-to-toe with the Golden Knights.  It’s possible that whoever wins this series might have an easier matchup in the second round which is something you don’t see every day.

(Kevin) Is there a possible worse prize to winning your conference than facing the Vegas Golden Cheats in the first round? The current iteration of the Knights the Stars could handle with ease, but everyone knows that the Knights have an additional half a team being added come playoff time (yes, it’s hyperbole). Dallas still matches up quite well offensively and, in the net, but that Vegas blue line is unmatched league-wide. It helps when you get much more than the salary cap to operate a team though. Luckily for fans of hockey twho enjoy teams playing somewhere close to the cap, this is the worst possible matchup for Vegas. In the Stars, they find a team that can match them offensively and defensively. All the Stars need is for Oettinger to find his game and this series should be short. But that’s a big if, so let’s call it Dallas in six.

(Norm) The Knights once again worked the salary cap to their favour to maximize their injury relief and trade for veterans Tomas Hertl, Anthony Mantha, and Noah Hanifin before the deadline. Last year’s Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Marchessault led Vegas in scoring with 69 points, followed by Jack Eichel with 68. Adin Hill was injured for a good stretch of the season limiting him to 19 wins, but did start three of the team’s last five games. Backup Logan Thompson led the team with 25 wins, but Hill will likely start Game 1 against Dallas.

The Stars are an excellent structured team; with 113 points they were only one point behind the NHL-leading Rangers. Up front, once again, Jason Robertson led Dallas with 80 points, followed by his ageless linemate Joe Pavelski with 67 points (despite his age of 39). Young forward (20) Wyatt Johnston was next with 65 points. On the blueline, Miro Heiskanen led the way with 54 points, while 22-year-old Thomas Harley exploded with 47 points. Starter Jake Oettinger produced 35 wins for another stellar season. I am not convinced that all of the injured players that have returned to Vegas’ lineup will be ready to take on a healthy Dallas squad that has been so dominant this season.

(Oren) The Stars haven’t shone this brightly since the era of Hull and Modano. So, why predict a brisk exit for such a well-balanced team? It boils down to the Knights’ overwhelming firepower. Ignoring any salary cap drama, Vegas flaunts elite defensive talent and a phenomenal offense proven in past playoffs. Can the Stars withstand such a barrage? They might hold up for a game or two, but I’m betting on Vegas.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Colorado Avalanche

Brian La Rose predicts: Jets in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Jets in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Avalanche in 7 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Jets in 7 games

(Brian) I don’t trust Winnipeg too often; they’re too much of a Jekyll and Hyde type of team for my liking.  But the state of Colorado’s goaltending is scary right now and not in a good way; it could very well lose them several games which is enough to make the difference when it’s Connor Hellebuyck at the other end.  I think that’s ultimately the difference in this one.

(Kevin) This is really a matchup that opposes each team’s strength. Colorado ends the season as the league’s top offence and must travel to Winnipeg to face the league’s best goaltender and defence in Round 1. Colorado has the advantage up front and Winnipeg in the blue paint. This series will undoubtedly play in favour of whichever team can push their style of play on the opposition. I think Winnipeg has every interest in making this series get nasty in a hurry. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the moves made by the Avalanche over the last 12 months. I have a hard time believing that the additions of Jonathan Drouin (pre-injury) and Casey Mittelstadt make this team adept at playing playoff-type hockey. However, the experience factors favours the Avalanche, so the longer the series goes, the better it is for the Avalanche. This is one where my heart is saying one thing and my head another. I’m going with the heart here; Winnipeg in six.

(Norm) Winnipeg has been a bit of a surprise to many this season, rising higher in the standings than many pundits expected. Led by Mark Scheifele’s 72 points, this team did not have a superstar at any position. Instead, it played a very strong game, consistent every shift to wear down the opposition. Former Hab Sean Monahan has fit in well on this squad after his trade from Montreal, centring the second line. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck had another strong season; it could easily be argued he is a top-five goaltender in the NHL.

The Avalanche are led by Nathan MacKinnon, a scoring machine who led his teammates with 140 points for the 2nd best total in the NHL. Mikko Rantanen had 104 points, followed by defenceman Cale Makar with 90. Ex-Drouin finished the season strong with 56 points, which was better than any of the six seasons he skated for the Canadiens. This team is relatively healthy to start the playoffs. I have a feeling this series will go the distance, and Colorado will prevail to advance to the 2nd round.

(Oren) With Drouin out for the first round, facing a consistent and formidable opponent in Winnipeg might just render the Avalanche as the ‘Leafs of the West.’ Will Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche’s top-tier offense be enough to dismantle the Jets? I believe the Jets’ depth will be the deciding factor, enabling them to exact a toll on Colorado.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators

Brian La Rose predicts: Predators in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Canucks in 5 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Predators in 7 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Canucks in 6 games

(Brian) Each year, there’s one series that more or less defies logic.  I think it’ll be this one.  On paper, the Canucks are a stronger team but they’re not all that battle-tested and I think are a bit overrated.  Meanwhile, Nashville hasn’t been all that good outside of the late-season hot streak that took them from being out of the playoffs to the top Wild Card spot.  Juuse Saros can steal some games and if that happens, I think the Preds can pull off the upset even though they’re the weaker team on paper.

(Kevin) The Vancouver Canucks had an unexpectedly excellent run to start the season and were then able to coast for the rest of the season. They didn’t play terribly, but they came back down to a more expected pace that was still good enough to win the division. Their depth is absolutely preferable to that of the Preds at every position. The Predators had a low point in January and have since been one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They have also returned to normal of late but they had done enough damage to secure the top Wild Card position, but is it enough to overcome the Canucks? I prefer Vancouver’s forward group, the Nashville blue line, and it’s really a toss-up in goal. The one other difference I’ve been able to decipher is the excellent home record for the Canucks. On that alone, I’ll say Vancouver in five.

(Norm) This is one of those first-round series that makes me go back and forth on the outcome. It’s very true that Vancouver had an excellent season. Coach Rick Tocchet took over late in the 2022-23 season, but had a full offseason and training camp to implement his team strategies. J.T. Miller took on the scoring lead for Vancouver with 103 points, followed by defenceman Quinn Hughes with 92 points and Elias Petterson with 89 points. Goaltender Thatcher Demko won 35 games but missed 14 games in March and April. He did return to play the last two matches.

Nashville was a bubble team until an off-ice team event was cancelled after a poor showing at the rink. The players responded by going on an eight-game winning streak from February 17 to March 2nd, then won another six games between March 13 and 26 to propel the squad into the playoff picture in the very competitive West. Filip Forsberg led the team with 94 points followed by defenceman Roman Josi’s 85 points. Juuse Saros also won 35 games for Nashville. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Predators will play the spoiler role and upset the stronger Vancouver squad.

(Oren) The Canucks have repeatedly demonstrated how phenomenal talent can electrify an entire lineup. Forget the headline names like Boeser, Pettersson, Miller, and Hughes—it’s the supporting cast that will decisively overpower the Predators’ hopes for an upset. And let’s not overlook goaltender Thatcher Demko who I’m convinced will out-goalie Juuse Saros.

Edmonton Oilers vs Los Angeles Kings

Brian La Rose predicts: Oilers in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Oilers in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Oilers in 6 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Oilers in 5 games

(Brian) The Oilers certainly have their flaws in goal but so does Los Angeles who at times had the cheapest goalie tandem in the league.  At worst for Edmonton, it’s a wash at that position.  The Oilers have a big edge up front and that alone will be the difference.  Their top players ran roughshod over Los Angeles last year and I think history repeats itself.

(Kevin) A battle of styles here as the highly offensive Oilers take on the defensive-minded Kings. Under normal circumstances, I tend to lean toward the defensive team. Less penalties get called in the playoffs which in turn means fewer power plays, but also fewer scoring chances. This usually means that if the defensive team can be a bit opportunistic to start the series, they can get the offensive team nervous and streak to a win. I think the Oilers have been through some adversity this season though and they are ready to roll and won’t be too gunshy even if it starts slowly.

(Norm) Los Angeles was off to such a strong start this season, that I thought they were going to run away with their division. Adrian Kempe led the Kings with 75 points followed by veterans Kevin Fiala and Anze Kopitar with 73 and 70 points. Star defenceman Drew Doughty led the back end with 50 points, while another veteran Cam Talbot led the Kings with 27 wins. Free agent Pierre-Luc Dubois’ terrible performance during his first season with Los Angeles, dropped him to the 4th line. However, former Hab Phillip Danault regained his spot on the 2nd line while producing 47 points.

The Oilers had the opposite start to the season, going 3-9-1, which led to the firing of their head coach. Kris Knoblauch took over, and the team responded so well the rest of their season record was 46-18-5. Connor McDavid had a somewhat down season (by his own high standards) by only scoring 132 points and ranking third in NHL scoring. He did hit the 100-assist level, which was a career-high for himself. Linemate Zach Hyman scored 54 goals which was also a career record. On defence, Evan Bouchard scored 82 points, and goaltender Stuart Skinner took over the number one role to drive the team with 36 wins. Edmonton picked up with veterans Corey Perry and Adam Henrique to improve their depth, which will be so important this postseason. These two teams met last year in the playoffs with the Oilers winning in six games. I’m getting a sense of deja vu, that the same thing will happen this season.

(Oren) Can a 36-year-old Anze Kopitar, with Phil Danault’s assistance, neutralize the Oilers’ generational talent? Will a rejuvenated Doughty and a rising Byfield be enough to ‘hold the door’ against McDavid’s onslaught? Will Pierre-Luc Dubois step up with playoff heroics for the Kings? My response to all these is a firm no.