2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs First-Round Preview: Atlantic Division Rivalries, Dallas Stars-Vegas Golden Knights Rematch Highlight Other Seven Series

Photo: Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs could be the best in a while as it features three Eastern Conference rivalries, a rematch of the Western Conference Final from last spring, and two Central Division heavy weights getting in the ring in a best-of-seven series. After previewing the Washington Capitals’ series against the New York Rangers (here), NoVa Caps examines the other seven series with the postseason starting on Saturday.


Metropolitan #2 Carolina Hurricanes vs. Metropolitan #3 New York Islanders

Regular-season leaders:


  • C Sebastian Aho (36 goals, 53 assists, 89 points)
  • RW Seth Jarvis (33 goals, 34 assists, 67 points)
  • D Brent Burns (21:30 average TOI/game)
  • G Pytor Kochetkov (23 wins)


  • C Brock Nelson (34 goals, 69 points)
  • C Bo Horvat (33 goals, 68 points)
  • D Noah Dobson (60 assists, 70 points, 24:31 average TOI/game)
  • C Mathew Barzal (80 points)
  • G Ilya Sorokin (25 wins)

Analysis: Both teams are heading into the postseason on heaters as Carolina went an NHL-best 36-11-4 (.745 points percentage) from December 18 onwards while New York, who replaced head coach Lane Lambert with Patrick Roy in January, finished the season a league-best 9-1-1 after March 26.

Special teams are going to be critical in this series, the third between these two teams since 2019 and second in as many years (Carolina won both in 4, in 2019, and 6 last season), as Carolina’s .269 efficiency on the power play was second in the league during the regular season while New York’s .715 penalty-killing rate was the worst. Carolina also led the NHL with an .864 penalty-killing efficiency. Both teams have scorers up front but New York must figure out their unit with a man down or else this is going to be a very quick series.

After allowing an average of 2.58 goals-against average over the previous five seasons (second), New York finished this year below the league average in that category (3.15). Though they improved after the coaching change (2.89 – 14th), the Islanders still were not as buttoned up as we are used to seeing from them. Refinding that defensive mastery is going to be essential against with a deep Carolina defense, which had four blueliners average more than 20 minutes per game this season and five average 17-plus, on the other side.

Another key for New York is going to be in goal, where they should hold the clear advantage but Sorokin had a down season after posting a .909 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average in 56 games, both significantly down from his numbers in 2022-23 (.924, 2.34 in 62). Carolina was just off of the NHL-lead in shots-per-game this season (33.3), so Sorokin better be ready from the start. Carolina finished the season with a .9124 team save percentage at five-on-five, the league average, and the Islanders could turn the tables if Sorokin rediscovers his game.

Betting Odds (BetMGM) – Carolina: -350, New York: +260

Prediction: Carolina in 4

Atlantic #1 Florida Panthers vs. Wild-Card #1 Tampa Bay Lightning

Regular-season leaders:


  • RW Sam Reinhart (57 goals, 94 points)
  • LW Matthew Tkachuk (62 assists, 88 points)
  • C Aleksander Barkov (1.10 points-per-game)
  • D Brandon Montour (23:27 average TOI/game)
  • G Sergei Bobrovsky (36 wins)


  • RW Nikita Kucherov (44 goals, 100 assists, 144 points)
  • C Brayden Point (46 goals, 90 points)
  • C Steven Stamkos (40 goals, 81 points)
  • D Victor Hedman (63 assists, 76 points, 24:48 average TOI/game)
  • G Andrei Vasilevskiy (30 wins)

Analysis: For the third time in four seasons, we get a Battle of Florida in the postseason. Tampa Bay won the first two, including a four-game sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the second round two years ago. Like the first installment and the sequel, both teams have tons of firepower as Tampa Bay had five players hit at least 75 points (Kucherov, Point, Stamkos, Hedman, LW Brandon Hagel: 26-49-75 in 82) during the regular season while Florida saw four of its own finish with more than 70 (Reinhart, Tkachuk, Barkov: 23-57-80 in 73, LW Carter Verhaeghe: 34-38-72 in 76).

Tampa Bay needs Vasilevskiy to return to form after a down regular season, where he finished with a .900 save percentage and 2.90 goals-against average (both the worst of his 10-season NHL career). Florida finished the year with a 3.23 goals-per-game average, .235 power play efficiency, and 33.7 shots-per-game average (second league-wide). The 29-year-old has a .921 save percentage, 2.37 goals-against average, and seven shutouts in 110 career postseason outings and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP in 2021.

Reinhart, 28, is coming off a career year where he finished second in the league in goals but shot at a ridiculous .245 rate and never had more than 34 in a single season before this campaign. Will he be able to keep it going? The good news for Florida is that the team has plenty of scorers surrounding him and a lot of offensive depth but the Panthers are a more dangerous team with Reinhart going.

In addition to boasting a deep group of forwards, Florida is able to lock it down defensively as their 2.41 goals-against per game led the NHL during the regular season, .825 penalty-killing rate tied the Boston Bruins for sixth, and 27.8 shots-against per game average ranked third. In addition, they are expected to get Aaron Ekblad back for Game 1 on Sunday (12:30 PM ET, ESPN) after he missed the final six regular-season games with an undisclosed injury. Keeping it tight on the defensive end is going to be key against Kucherov, who had 54 more points than any other Bolt, and co. If Florida plays disciplined defensively, Tampa Bay could have a very tough time in this series.

Betting Odds (BetMGM) – Florida: -175, Tampa Bay: +145

Prediction: Florida in 5

Atlantic #2 Boston Bruins vs. Atlantic #3 Toronto Maple Leafs

Regular-season leaders:


  • RW David Pastrnak (47 goals, 63 assists, 110 points)
  • LW Brad Marchand (29 goals, 67 points)
  • C Charlie Coyle (25 goals)
  • D Charlie McAvoy (24:50 average TOI/game)
  • G Jeremy Swayman (25 wins)


  • C Auston Matthews (69 goals, 107 points)
  • RW Mitch Marner (59 assists, 85 points)
  • RW William Nylander (40 goals, 58 assists, 98 points)
  • D Morgan Reilly (23:44 average TOI/game)
  • G Ilya Samsonov (23 wins)

Analysis: These two teams will meet in the first round for the fourth time in 11 years, including third in the last six; Boston has won all of the previous three, which went the distance each time. Both teams have glaring holes on their roster but the question is which is bigger? Neither of Toronto’s goaltenders finished with a save percentage above .907 nor a goals-against average below 2.94. Samsonov and Joseph Woll also have a combined 21 games of postseason experience with Samsonov accounting for 17 of them. Boston finished the season with a .930 five-on-five save percentage but their goaltending tandem of Swayman and Linus Ullmark has appeared in just eight postseason games each.

Meanwhile, Boston never filled the holes vacated by Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci down the middle from their retirements last summer. Coyle had a strong season as has Pavel Zacha (21-38-59 in 78) but it will still be tough for Boston to match Toronto’s duo Matthews and John Tavares down the middle. Toronto also has the option of slotting Max Domi at center.

Five-on-five scoring is going to be crucial in this series as both teams were deadly on the power play this season (Toronto: .240, Boston .222) and will likely not want to give each other many opportunities with a man up. Toronto finished this season with a league-leading 200 goals at five-on-five while Boston’s 174 were tied for 12th. It will be especially important for Toronto, whose .769 penalty-killing percentage was in the bottom-10 league-wide.

To have a chance in this series, Toronto must buckle down defensively after their 3.18 goals-against per game average was 21st this season. Their unit allowed 29.8 shots-per-game, slightly better than the NHL average. Toronto had 13 defenseman suit up this season with only three who are available for this series averaging more than 20 minutes per game and Reilly averaging at least 2:01 more than the rest of them. Especially going against Pastrnak and with questions in goal, defense will be key for Toronto.

Betting Odds (BetMGM) – Boston: -120, Toronto: +100

Prediction: Toronto in 7


Central #1 Dallas Stars vs. Wild-Card #2 Vegas Golden Knights

Regular-season leaders:


  • C Wyatt Johnston (32 goals)
  • C Roope Hintz (30 goals)
  • LW Jason Robertson (51 assists, 80 points)
  • D Miro Heiskanen (24:32 average TOI/game)
  • G Jake Oettinger (35 wins)


  • RW Jonathan Marchessault (42 goals, 69 points)
  • C Jack Eichel (37 assists, 1.08 points-per-game)
  • D Shea Theodore (37 assists, 0.89 points-per-game)
  • RW Mark Stone (37 assists, 0.95 points-per-game)
  • D Alex Pietrangelo (23:34 average TOI/game)
  • G Logan Thompson (25 wins)

Analysis: Just in time for a rematch of the 2020 (won by Dallas in five) and 2023 (Vegas in six) Western Conference Finals, Vegas is getting healthy as Tomas Hertl suited up for the final six games of the regular season after missing more than nine weeks with a knee injury; Stone, who has been sidelined with a lacerated spleen since February 20, has been practicing; and Pietrangelo and Chandler Stephenson are day-to-day.

With Vegas getting healthy, Oettinger (.905 save percentage, 2.72 goals-against average in 54 games) must improve. He tallied a save percentage of at least .914 in each of the previous two seasons before it fell off this season. Against a Vegas team loaded with scorers and just getting healthy, Dallas needs the 25-year-old to get going.

Dallas trailed only the Colorado Avalanche (3.68) and Toronto in goals-per-game this season and finished the year ranked sixth on the power play (.242). While Vegas has a deep blueline on paper when healthy, they must improve defensively from the regular season when they finished with a 2.96 goals-against average, a league-average .793 penalty-killing rate, and 30.3 shots-against per game average. Getting Pietrangelo back will be a big boost to the backend in Vegas but the team still needs to play better without the puck as Dallas had eight players with more than 20 goals this season, including two with at least 30.

While Oettinger needs to improve, there is some goaltending uncertainty in Vegas as well as Thompson (.908 save percentage, 2.70 goals-against average in 46 games) and Adin Hill (.909 save percentage, 2.71 goals-against average in 35) posted identical numbers during the regular season. Hill, who led the defending Stanley Cup Champions to the top of the mountain last spring, recently missed 18 days with a lower-body injury and struggled after returning, earning a .846 save percentage in his final three games.

Betting Odds (BetMGM) – Dallas: -135, Vegas: +115

Prediction: Vegas in 7

Central #2 Winnipeg Jets vs. Central #3 Colorado Avalanche

Regular-season leaders:


  • LW Kyle Connor (34 goals, 0.94 points-per-game)
  • D Josh Morrissey (59 assists, 24:11 average TOI/game)
  • C Mark Schiefele (72 points)
  • G Connor Hellebuyck (37 wins)


  • C Nathan MacKinnon (51 goals, 89 assists, 140 points)
  • RW Mikko Rantanen (42 goals, 104 points)
  • D Cale Makar (69 assists, 90 points, 24:46 average TOI/game)
  • G Alexander Georgiev (38 wins)

Analysis: Colorado concluded the season with the best offense and fifth-best power play. Hellebuyck, who finished second in the NHL with a .921 save percentage and fourth with a 2.39 goals-against average, will be under siege against a Colorado team that averaged 33 shots-per-game (tied for fourth). Arguably the favorite for the Vezina Trophy, the 30-year-old must continue to thrive against a dangerous, skilled, and fast Colorado offense.

While Rantanen and Makar both went off during the regular-season, Colorado relied on MacKinnon for a majority of their offense as he finished 36 points ahead of Rantanen and no other Avalanche player had 60 points after their big-three. Luckily for them, Winnipeg had just four players with 40 points (Scheifele: 25-47-72 in 74, Morrissey: 10-59-69 in 81, Connor: 34-27-61 in 65, LW Nikolaj Ehlers: 25-36-61 in 82). Offensive depth could very well decide this series.

Winnipeg has an ace in the net but Colorado faces big question marks in goal after Georgiev finished the season with an .897 save percentage and 3.02 goals-against average and got overworked, appearing in 63 games. The Jets earned a .104 shooting percentage, 12th league-wide and has many proven goal scorers including Connor and Scheifele. Forward depth is a big key in this best-of-seven but Colorado’s shaky netminding could give Winnipeg the advantage in two areas.

Colorado may have an Achilles heel that Winnipeg could press hard on, but so do the Jets as they posted an .188 power-play efficiency (22nd) and a .771 penalty-killing rate (21st). Colorado’s .799 penalty-killing percentage may not impress but their man advantage is dangerous after converting at a .245 rate this season. Hellebuyck finished with a -.16 goals-saved above average when the Jets were shorthanded this season and Colorado must take advantage of their power plays against a team like Winnipeg.

Betting Odds (BetMGM) – Winnipeg: +115, Colorado: -135

Prediction: Winnipeg in 7

Pacific #1 Vancouver Canucks vs. Wild-Card #1 Nashville Predators

Regular-season leaders:


  • RW Brock Boeser (40 goals)
  • C J.T. Miller (37 goals, 66 assists, 103 points)
  • C Elias Pettersson (34 goals, 55 assists, 89 points)
  • D Quinn Hughes (75 assists, 92 points, 24:41 average TOI/game)
  • G Thatcher Demko (35 wins)


  • LW Filip Forsberg (48 goals, 94 points)
  • D Roman Josi (62 assists, 85 points, 24:38 average TOI/game)
  • LW Gustav Nyquist (52 assists, 75 points)
  • G Juuse Saros (35 wins)

Analysis: Scoring depth is going to be essential for Nashville against a team that averaged 3.40 goals-per-game, scored on .227 of their power plays, and had three players average over a point-per-game during the regular season. While Nashville had four players with at least 23 goals and eight with 12-plus, Forsberg had at least 22 more than any other Predator. Vancouver had three with more than 33.

Facing Vancouver’s firepower, Saros will need to get back to his rhythm. The 29-year-old finished the season with a career-worst .906 save percentage and 2.86 goals-against average but also played a lot, starting 64 games. Vancouver shot only 28.4 times per game so it could be possible that Saros does not face a ton of rubber in the series but he must be sharp on the shots he does face to keep up with a very good goaltender at the other end of the ice.

The penalty kill is another area that could make-or-break this series for Nashville after their unit killed off just .769 of their penalties during the regular season. Nashville took the fourth-most penalties among teams that qualified for the postseason and they cannot afford to keep it up against a lethal Canucks offense. Vancouver had three players with double-digit totals in power-play goals (Boeser: 16, Pettersson: 13, Miller: 10) and Miller (40) and Hughes (38) finished among the top-11 league-wide in power-play points.

While Vancouver has had many stellar seasons from their star players, will they keep it up? Their core of Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes does not have a ton of postseason experience. Boeser never hit 30 goals prior to this season and last hit 25 four years ago. Miller had career-highs in goals and points. While the talent is there, it is unknown how this group adapts to postseason hockey where teams buckle down defensively.

Betting Odds (BetMGM) – Vancouver: -150, Nashville: +125

Prediction: Vancouver in 7

Pacific #2 Edmonton Oilers vs. Pacific #3 Los Angeles Kings

Regular-season leaders:


  • LW Zach Hyman (54 goals)
  • C Leon Draisaitl (41 goals, 106 points)
  • C Connor McDavid (100 assists, 132 points)
  • D Evan Bouchard (23:00 TOI/game)
  • G Stuart Skinner (36 wins)


  • LW Trevor Moore (31 goals)
  • LW Kevin Fiala (29 goals, 73 points)
  • RW Adrian Kempe (28 goals, 47 assists, 75 points)
  • C Anne Kopitar (26 goals, 70 points)
  • D Drew Doughty (25:48 TOI/game)
  • G Cam Talbot (27 wins)

Analysis: The offense should be on display in the third consecutive season that these teams have met in the postseason (Edmonton won the previous two in seven, six games, respectively) as Edmonton and Los Angeles have both seen their top players turn in sparkling seasons. However, Edmonton got more help down their lineup as they averaged 3.56 goals-per-game (fourth) while Los Angeles posted 3.10 (league average). Los Angeles will need improvements from players such as Pierre-Luc Dubois (16-24-40 in 82) and when playing, Arthur Kaliyev (7-8-15 in 51), to keep up with the Oilers’ offense.

One matchup to watch in this series will be Los Angeles’ penalty kill, which finished second with an .846 efficiency, against Edmonton’s power play, which was fourth at a .263 rate. Draisaitl scored over half (21) of his goals on the man advantage so neutralizing him particularly while shorthanded could boost Los Angeles’ chances of winning significantly. All players on Edmonton’s top unit tallied at least 20 power-play points with McDavid leading the way with 44.

While Edmonton has an advantage up front, Los Angeles could have the edge in goal. Skinner may have tied for third in wins this season but posted just a .905 save percentage, 25th among goaltenders to appear in at least 25 games. The Kings’ .097 shooting percentage is the worst among the 16 teams that qualified, so shot quality over quantity could go a long way for them. Los Angeles averaged 31.9 shots-per-game, which was good for seventh among teams left, and had 10 players shoot at over .1.

Los Angeles has been excellent defensively this season but can their blueliners step in offensively? Doughty (15) was the only Kings defenseman that posted seven goals. Meanwhile, Edmonton had three notch totals in double-digits (Bouchard: 18, Mattias Ekholm: 11, Darnell Nurse: 10). In fact, only three Los Angeles defenseman had more than three. With both teams’ forward groups deep and star-studded, offensive production from the backend could make a difference in this series and where Los Angeles could get torched.

Betting Odds (OddsShark) – Edmonton: -190, Los Angeles: +160

Prediction: Edmonton in 7

By Harrison Brown