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Stanley Cup playoffs 2024: NHL postseason team predictions

Illustration by ESPN

The 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs are here! It took until the final two games of the regular season to determine final seeding for the bracket, but with the puck ready to drop Saturday on our first playoff action, it's time for our jumbo-sized preview.

We've got all the angles covered to get you ready for the playoffs as ESPN hockey reporters Ryan S. Clark and Kristen Shilton take a look at each of the 16 postseason teams, offering the reasons each team could win it all, along with the (potentially) biggest flaws, players to watch and a bold prediction for every contender.

Note: Profiles for the Atlantic and Metropolitan playoff brackets were written by Shilton, while Clark analyzed the Central and Pacific clubs. Also note that wild-card teams are listed according to the playoff bracket in which they're playing (so the Nashville Predators are in the Pacific, for instance).

Stats are collected from sites such as Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey.

Jump to a team:
Atlantic: FLA | BOS
TOR | TB
Metro: NYR | CAR
NYI | WSH
Central: DAL | WPG
COL | LA
Pacific: VAN | EDM
VGK | NSH

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The storylines to watch for in the Stanley Cup playoffs

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ATLANTIC DIVISION

A1. Florida Panthers

Record: 52-24-6, 110 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Florida was an eleventh-hour addition to the postseason field last year and wound up going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. This year's Panthers have been anything but underdogs, and their chances of returning to the Final are better than ever. Florida ran it back this season with nearly the same roster intact -- including 15 skaters from that Cup Final lineup -- and have since added more experience with Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola among others.

Florida's real strength, though, comes through its star performers, and those top-tier skaters can do serious damage. Sam Reinhart had a career year, picking up 52 goals and 92 points; Aleksander Barkov remains an outstanding two-way center; Matthew Tkachuk found his feisty form again; and a rejuvenated Sergei Bobrovsky is Florida's game-changer in the crease. Confidence? The Panthers should be full of it.

Biggest flaws: Florida has top-end scoring talent. But will it make the team too top-heavy? After Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe (with 33 goals) and Tkachuk (with 26), there's a drop-off around who's putting pucks in the net. The Panthers don't have a standout offensive defenseman (Gustav Forsling leads the way there with 10 goals and 38 points) and could be exposed in the playoffs if their elite skaters are neutralized and there's no one behind them to answer the scoring bell.

The Panthers were middle-of-the-pack this season offensively (averaging 3.21 goals per game, 14th overall) and there's a scoring premium in the playoffs for every club regardless of regular-season success.

Player to watch: Aleksander Barkov. There are few players in the league with Barkov's unique skill set. He can win key face-offs, break up passes and execute in seemingly small areas that can make or break a team's outcome. This is when Barkov should be his most powerful.

Bold prediction: Florida will barely survive a first-round series that goes the distance, and fatigue will weigh heavily as the Panthers are ousted from the second round in five games.


A2. Boston Bruins

Record: 47-20-15, 109 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: The Bruins showed again this season that they're a resilient bunch, grappling with the loss of key players (i.e., Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci), transitioning to a new leadership group (led by newly anointed captain Brad Marchand) and, despite being among the NHL's older teams, still staying on pace with the younger crowd. The Bruins boast a deep lineup on both sides of the puck that goes well beyond their stars -- like Marchand, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. Coach Jim Montgomery will have an enviable number of options to choose from when formulating Boston's attack.

Boston also secured home-ice advantage to start the postseason, and the local help alone can be an advantage. The Bruins didn't tap into it last season -- losing in the first round to Florida -- but should have learned plenty from their prior disappointment. The Bruins are aware their contending window could snap shut at any time. They squandered a Presidents' Trophy-winning season a year ago by falling flat in the playoffs. That's motivation enough to fuel Boston's next chapter.

Biggest flaws: The Bruins have had issues closing out games. Boston is tied for the league lead in overtime or shootout losses (with eight) when leading after two periods. It's a damning statistic, and Montgomery has talked throughout the season about Boston finding ways to "push through" even when tired at the end of a game. That's especially important in the playoffs, when overtime can extend for hours.

Speaking of emotion, will the Bruins carry any demons from their past failure into this postseason? Boston has repeatedly handled questions about its first-round flop last spring. It's on the veterans who went through that to ensure there are no lingering effects impacting how Boston goes about its business from here on out.

Player to watch: David Pastrnak. Boston's stars must be stars. And there is no one who can rise to the occasion for the Bruins quite like Pastrnak. Whether it's scoring a critical goal, elevating his linemates or creating a matchup nightmare, Pastrnak is Boston's jack-of-all-trades who will lead the charge through a tough first-round slog -- and possibly well beyond it.

Bold prediction: Boston will get outworked (again) in the first round and won't be able to match the intensity of a hungrier opponent. The Bruins will fall in six games and head into another long offseason to think about making major changes.


A3. Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 46-26-10, 102 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Toronto took its time finding a sweet spot, where all the elements from consistent scoring to stable goaltending to solid defense came together and steered the Leafs closer to their full potential. That it happened late in the year, right before the playoffs? Well, that just might be Toronto's secret sauce.

Unlike seasons past, when the Leafs could coast at times on the goal-scoring prowess of Auston Matthews or the playmaking magic of Mitch Marner, the Leafs have successfully weathered adversity to emerge as perhaps the strongest collective version of themselves. Sure, GM Brad Treliving actively added some sandpaper to the lineup with Ryan Reaves and a big-bodied defenseman in Joel Edmundson, but it's the overall grit Toronto has earned throughout the year that should help in the postseason.

Another Leafs edge? Their first line -- helmed by Hart Trophy contender Matthews -- has finally found its rhythm. After months of tinkering, Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi have combined with Matthews to make their unit elite. That has given coach Sheldon Keefe the opportunity to spread out some of the other top skaters -- such as Marner and William Nylander -- so Toronto isn't as vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of its star performers. Nicholas Robertson has been improving up front lately, and so has Matthew Knies. The Leafs were felled by a lack of postseason scoring in the past, and if they've got that covered now, it could carry them well beyond one round.

Biggest flaws: Toronto has question marks on defense -- including who, exactly, will actually be in the six-man rotation come playoffs. TJ Brodie, once a top-pairing staple, has slipped down the depth chart, and Keefe's been regularly reworking his back end to see what sticks. The Leafs have averaged 3.13 goals against this season and nearly 30 shots against while struggling to defend off the rush. In a tight-checking postseason contest when desperation is at its peak, Toronto's defense could be exposed if it can't find the right mix of players to handle the job ahead.

Player to watch: Ilya Samsonov. Toronto's starter has been through the wringer and came out the other side playing some of his best hockey. The Leafs can only hope Samsonov stays on that path when the playoffs begin. He projects to be their starter in the first round, with rookie Joseph Woll looking over his shoulder, ready to take over.

Bold prediction: Toronto will escape the first round and then explode with a second-round sweep. The Leafs will reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1967 and finally win it all in a dramatic Game 7 victory.


WC1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: 45-29-8, 98 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Tampa Bay has an unparalleled playoff pedigree, and that's why the Lightning can never be counted out of contending for a Stanley Cup. Yes, the Lightning faltered in the first round last year, but that's still the exception to their rule. Before that, it was three straight trips to the Cup finals, with two victories. Tampa Bay can turn it on when it's time to go.

The Lightning have also woven in some fresh bodies (namely Anthony Duclair and Matt Dumba) and remained fairly healthy, so strong chemistry could build up over time. The results since early March speak for themselves -- Tampa Bay is averaging four goals per game (best in the league); it is top-10 in goals against and top-five on the power play; and the goaltending under Andrei Vasilevskiy is elite once more (.910 SV%, 2.61 GAA). Oh, and Nikita Kucherov? He leads the league in points with 144 and will be a momentum-shifting, series-defining threat.

Biggest flaws: Tampa Bay was dealt a tough blow when top-pairing defenseman Mikhail Sergachev suffered a broken leg in February. He won't return unless the Lightning go deep into the playoffs. Sergachev's absence has left the blue line exposed.

Victor Hedman is carrying the group, but it now includes more up-and-comers (such as Nick Perbix and Emil Lilleberg) than established skaters who have helped the team win in the past. Dumba's been a fine third-pairing guy, but it'll take more than just OK for the Lightning to not be drowned by defensive problems.

Player to watch: Brayden Point. While it's Kucherov gathering the points (and accolades) this season, Point has quietly had a phenomenal season of his own with 46 goals and 90 points. Having Point healthy and rolling like he is now is a major flex for the Lightning and adds to their depth scoring capabilities.

Bold prediction: Kucherov will be held off the score sheet through Tampa Bay's first two games, and the Lightning will get knocked out in the first round a second consecutive time.

METRO DIVISION

M1. New York Rangers

Record: 55-23-4, 114 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: New York knows how it feels to fall short. It happened two years ago in the Eastern Conference finals. It happened again last season in the first round. Those disappointments led to a coaching change and roster turnover and to a battle-tested New York that became this season's Presidents' Trophy winner.

How did the Rangers get there? By becoming one of the league's elite offensive squads. Artemi Panarin -- who tallied just two assists in that first-round loss against New Jersey last spring -- exploded with a 120-point regular season; Chris Kreider popped in 39 goals; and Adam Fox is a point-per-game skater on the back end. New York's depth is stronger, too, particularly since adding Alex Wennberg at the deadline to fill the third-line center role. Rookie Matt Rempe gives the Rangers some needed size and toughness. All that, along with an excellent goaltending tandem in Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick, gives New York a superb opportunity to reach a Stanley Cup Final.

Biggest flaws: The Rangers have had their issues structurally and defensively this season. There were stretches around the midseason when New York was bafflingly poor in its own end, prone to turnovers and generally playing a dangerous game of hot potato with the puck. The Rangers are at their best playing a collective team defense. When that's lacking, things can go south quickly. Shesterkin and Quick are good, but they can't be left hung out to dry, either.

Being the Presidents' Trophy winner has not, historically, led to strong results in the playoffs. The Rangers have their own demons (as mentioned above) from lackluster showings on the game's biggest stage. How they push past those potential barriers will help determine their playoff success.

Player to watch: Artemi Panarin. It's time for Panarin to close the book on last season's awful playoff performance by writing a fresh new chapter -- this one centered on his ability to dominate opponents. That's how New York will stretch this postseason out for weeks to come.

Bold prediction: New York's stars will turn up in the first round, but the Rangers' depth will fail to match, and a hungrier Washington team will oust the Presidents' Trophy winners in a dramatic Game 7 finale.

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The curse of the NHL's Presidents' Trophy

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M2. Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 52-23-7, 111 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Carolina has waited in the wings long enough. The Hurricanes are perennial contenders and then don't quite live up to playoff expectations, like in last season's Eastern Conference finals sweep against Florida. Well, consider this Carolina's time to shine. The Hurricanes are built to go all the way in every phase. Jake Guentzel has been a great addition to the lineup post-deadline; Sebastian Aho is a bona fide star averaging well over a point-per-game; Seth Jarvis has come to life with a 33-goal effort; and Andrei Svechnikov made up for lost time with 52 points in 59 games. There's a strong blue line led by Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns to go along with complementary defensive performances throughout the lineup.

Carolina is also dynamic on special teams, owning the second-ranked power play (26.9%) and top penalty kill (86.4%) in the regular season. That combination alone is a terrifying edge in the team's favor. The Hurricanes' goaltending has been a source of strength, too. Frederik Andersen returned from his blood clotting issue in fine form (13-2-0, .932 SV%, 1.84 GAA), and rookie Pyotr Kochetkov has provided terrific showings in the crease.

Biggest flaws: The Hurricanes have to be careful with Andersen. Although the veteran has been strong since his recovery, there's no denying Andersen's history of injuries. If Carolina expects to go far, it will need a solid tandem in place to lean on, and Andersen should be part of it. But if Andersen were to miss games, would Kochetkov survive carrying the load on a long postseason run? The Hurricanes' options to help Kochetkov in that regard are fairly limited. Depth, in all facets, can be the difference between winning and losing a tight series. Carolina must hope it doesn't face a goaltending dilemma anytime soon.

Player to watch: Jake Guentzel. The former Pittsburgh Penguin wasted no time proving his worth on a new roster with eight goals and 25 points in 17 games. If that was the start of Guentzel's production in Carolina, then consider the Eastern Conference playoff field on notice that an actual offensive hurricane is headed its way.

Bold prediction: Carolina will chart an unstoppable course straight on to the Eastern Conference finals, but once again the Hurricanes will lose steam and won't be able to make the Cup Final.


M3. New York Islanders

Record: 39-27-16, 94 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: New York found its rhythm from late March into April, and that secured a playoff spot and powers the team's postseason hopes. The Islanders have a white-hot goaltender in Semyon Varlamov (8-1-1 in starts since March 10) leading the way. What the Islanders lacked in identity earlier this year has finally come together under new coach Patrick Roy. There's a stability to New York's structure that has revealed itself further with each passing game. The Islanders often favor physicality, and now they're more opportunistic offensively to add dimension where it wasn't before. New York should be confident heading into the postseason.

Biggest flaws: The Islanders have long faced criticism for their low scoring output, and this season -- as a whole -- has been no exception. New York ranked 23rd in offense through the regular season, averaging under three goals per game. The Islanders' attack is top-heavy when it does ignite, with only five skaters surpassing the 20-goal mark and only one (Mathew Barzal) working at a point-per-game pace. New York has to work hard for the offense it does get, and that can weigh a team down in a playoff series.

New York is also vulnerable on special teams. The Islanders cobbled together a league-worst penalty kill (72.2%), and their power play ranked 21st overall (19.7%). That puts serious pressure on them to stay disciplined and not let opponents use the mediocre special teams against them.

Player to watch: Bo Horvat. The Islanders' forward had a solid regular season with 33 goals and 68 points. But this time of year is why New York traded for Horvat in the first place. He must produce a high-caliber effort nightly in the postseason for the Islanders to go far.

Bold prediction: New York will try to ride Varlamov's hot hand, but the goalie will stumble early and be replaced by Ilya Sorokin. He will nearly guide the Islanders to a first-round victory, but they'll fall in Game 7.


WC2. Washington Capitals

Record: 40-31-11, 91 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: The Capitals never gave up. That attitude earned them a return bid to the playoffs in mind-blowing fashion. Washington somehow has both the worst goal differential (minus-37) of any postseason team in history and the chance to prove it means nothing when it opens another first-round series. Washington has received contributions from everywhere and everyone this season, from established veterans (such as Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson) to rising stars (including Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre). The Caps are in capable hands between the pipes, too, with Charlie Lindgren emerging as a stable starting option who can swing a game in Washington's favor.

The Capitals' overall buy-in under first-year coach Spencer Carbery (who has done a masterful job righting the ship for Washington through several rocky stretches this season) is also what makes them dangerous. Yes, every team wants to be successful in the playoffs, but Washington is already driven by its underdog status. If the Caps keep that mentality at the forefront, they could take the playoff field by storm.

Biggest flaws: Washington will have to turn up the heat offensively. The Capitals ranked 28th in total offense (with 2.63 goals per game) and 29th in 5-on-5 goals (143), and Dylan Strome paced the team with just 67 points on the season. Where will Washington get consistent scoring from in a playoff series? Even if it manages that, can it keep the puck out of its own net, too? Lindgren has been terrific for much of the year, but the Caps allow over 30 shots on net per game. How will that affect them when some of their key contributors have little to no postseason experience? It's a recipe for preventable mistakes, and those can quickly become series-defining problems.

Player to watch: Alex Ovechkin. Like there's anyone else you'd be watching anyway. Ovechkin is in the late stages of a Hall of Fame career, and this opportunity to be in the playoffs looked like a long shot even last month. He won't take this chance for granted, and that should not only fuel a stellar showing from him but also provide motivation to every player in Washington's dressing room.

Bold prediction: The Capitals will give a rousing first-round effort to unseat the Presidents' Trophy winners and advance to an unexpected second-round showing that will end with a Game 6 defeat.

CENTRAL DIVISION

C1. Dallas Stars

Record: 52-21-9, 113 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Practically every team that wins a Stanley Cup encounters some sort of crucible before eventually capturing a championship. The Stars have done just that. Back in 2020, they reached the Stanley Cup Final. In 2022, they struggled to score in a first-round loss. The 2023 postseason saw them get within two games of the Stanley Cup Final, which is part of what makes them one of the NHL's most legitimate Cup challengers.

Depth is everything in the postseason, and the Stars have it. They have eight players who scored more than 20 goals this season and 13 players who finished with more than 20 points. But it's not just the ability to score. Trading for Chris Tanev at the deadline gave the Stars that right-handed partner they had sought for Miro Heiskanen, giving them a pairing capable of shutting down an opponent's top two lines.

Biggest flaws: Strange as it sounds, there are questions about Jake Oettinger. Even though he has a third straight season of more than 30 wins, Oettinger's consistency has been a topic of conversation. His 2.72 goals-against average and .905 save percentage are outliers, given he has a career 2.52 GAA and .912 save percentage.

That said, he had a 1.66 GAA and a .940 save percentage in April. If that's the version of Oettinger the Stars can get in the playoffs, it could ultimately see them take the next step and advance to their second Stanley Cup Final in four seasons.

And of course, matching up against the Golden Knights in Round 1 brings questions too; namely can they take the lessons learned from last year to win this time around?

Player to watch: Wyatt Johnston. Several executives around the NHL stress the importance of being able to build through the draft. Johnston is the latest example from the Stars' assembly line that shows why they place such a premium on draft picks. He has gone from being a rookie who was a significant contributor to a second-year player who led them with 32 goals -- and he doesn't turn 21 until May.

Bold prediction: Thomas Harley will be the breakout star of a playoff run that will at least reach the second round. Harley finished the regular season with 15 goals and 47 points, and he will give the Stars another standout on both ends.


C2. Winnipeg Jets

Record: 51-24-6, 108 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Losing in the first round to the Golden Knights last year exposed a number of the Jets' issues. Namely, they needed to add as much scoring help as possible, and that's what they've done over the past 12 months. The Pierre-Luc Dubois trade allowed Winnipeg to land Alex Iafallo and Gabriel Vilardi, who have been part of the team's balanced scoring attack.

Altogether, the Jets had 13 players who scored more than 10 goals this season. They've received contributions from established figures such as Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele, while seeing new faces like Iafallo, Vilardi and Sean Monahan add to those totals. Combine that with what they have in goal in Connor Hellebuyck and it makes Winnipeg a team that could pose problems if it can get out of the first round.

Biggest flaws: Can the Jets parlay their regular-season success into the sort of results that get them beyond the first round? It's an even more relevant question heading into Round 1, given what they've done against the Avs in the regular season (winning all three games). But it's a question Winnipeg has been trying to answer for the past few years. Back in 2017-18, the Jets lost in the Western Conference finals to the Golden Knights, and getting to that round created the belief that they could become one of the West's long-term contenders.

Since then, Winnipeg has made it out of the first round only once. What has separated the Jets from teams such as the Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars, among others, is that they haven't been able to go on those extended runs that show they are ready to challenge for a Stanley Cup. Is this the season the Jets take off?

Player to watch: Connor Hellebuyck. He has had one of the strongest individual campaigns of his career and stands to capture what would be his second Vezina Trophy. Last year's playoffs were a challenge, as Hellebuyck finished with a 3.44 GAA and .886 save percentage. Still, Hellebuyck's previous postseason experience has shown he can make a difference for a team that's seeking to take the next step in its playoff evolution.

Bold prediction: Vilardi will lead the Jets in scoring through at least one round of the playoffs. In a full, 82-game season, Vilardi was on pace for a team-high 37 goals, and his projected 62 points would have been second. Going to Winnipeg has allowed him to further tap into his promise, and it could once again benefit the Jets in the postseason.


C3. Colorado Avalanche

Record: 49-25-7, 105 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Having Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar allows the Avalanche to be top Cup contenders on an annual basis. But having those three is not enough, which is what the Avs learned last year when the then-defending champions were ousted in the first round.

Avs general manager Chris MacFarland and his front office staff have used the time since to strengthen their depth. This is a team that isn't reliant on its stars, and it can receive contributions from everyone on a nightly basis. That's what allowed the Avs to win the title back in 2022, and it's what has them in contention for a second championship in the past three years.

Biggest flaws: Could it be the fact they're opening the playoffs against the Jets? The Jets' 7-0 victory this past Saturday raised questions about what could happen once the playoffs started. Losing by a rather large margin wasn't the only talking point after the game. There was also a discussion about how the Jets were 3-0 against the Avalanche in the regular season -- and had outscored them 17-4 in those contests.

It's possible that what happened in the regular season could have little bearing once their first-round series starts. The Golden Knights won only one of their eight combined games against the Oilers and Stars in the 2022-23 regular season, only to then beat those two teams en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Could it be a similar situation for the Avs, or can the Jets parlay their regular-season success into winning the series?

Player to watch: Gabriel Landeskog. The biggest question regarding the team has been: Can the captain return this postseason? Landeskog has missed the past two seasons recovering from a persistent knee injury that saw him undergo cartilage transplant surgery last May. Avs coach Jared Bednar said Tuesday that Landeskog is "not close" to participating in practices, while having noted previously that the Avs captain could return at some point in the playoffs.

Bold prediction: Casey Mittelstadt will average a point per game in the first round. After coming over in trade from Buffalo, Mittelstadt filled the second-line center gap Colorado had been trying to fill since the departure of Nazem Kadri. His arrival gives the Avs another player who could make a massive impact in what will be the first playoff series of his career.


WC2. Vegas Golden Knights

Record: 45-28-8, 98 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Much of the system that allowed the Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup last season is back. They have the reigning Conn Smythe winner in Jonathan Marchessault. They have players who have excelled in top line and/or top pairing roles such as Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo. They have Adin Hill, the goaltender who played a significant role. They also have the unsung heroes such as Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud, who were among the most used defensive pairings in the playoffs last season.

And then Vegas supplemented all that by having one of the most advantageous trade deadlines in recent memory. It added a top-nine winger in Anthony Mantha and a top-pairing defenseman in Noah Hanifin, then made the shocking trade to get another top-six forward in Tomas Hertl, creating a team that looks as if it can certainly defend its title.

Biggest flaws: Could the additions of Hanifin, Hertl and Mantha be too many new moving pieces at once? One thing that has allowed the Golden Knights to go from being an expansion team to a full-on juggernaut is their ability to have players seamlessly fit into their system as if they've been there the whole time. That's how it has worked with Ivan Barbashev, Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson, Eichel, Pietrangelo and Hill.

It's uncertain whether Hanifin, Hertl and Mantha can follow suit. Hanifin had 12 points through his first 18 games, and Mantha had 10 points in his first 18 games. Once Hertl was cleared to play after his recovery efforts from knee surgery, he had three points in his first four games, including the winning goal against the Avs this past Sunday. So far, so good.

Player to watch: Noah Hanifin. Yes, the idea of Stone coming back from injury to appear in the playoffs makes him a strong candidate to be the answer here. But we know what Stone can do in the postseason. Seeing what Hanifin can do in the playoffs could be rather important, considering Vegas just signed him to an eight-year extension. He has eight points while averaging 21:03 of ice time per game in 27 career playoff contests; those numbers should both rise this spring.

Bold prediction: Hertl will lead the Golden Knights in points throughout the entirety of their playoff run. Even if there are questions about how all the new pieces fit, Hertl will find a way to answer them by being the team's most prolific performer.

PACIFIC DIVISION

P1. Vancouver Canucks

Record: 50-22-9, 109 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Few teams have been as consistent as the Canucks in a season that has watched them go from a surprise team to one that could win the Cup. Other than a four-game losing streak in February, Vancouver has looked the part of a serious championship challenger that relied upon its entire roster to reach this stage.

J.T. Miller has 100 points and Quinn Hughes appears to be the Norris Trophy favorite, but there is so much more to the Canucks. Brock Boeser's 40-goal campaign led the way among 10 players who finished the season with more than 10 tallies. The team also has 14 players who finished the year with more than 20 points.

Biggest flaws: Can Vancouver make it work in the playoffs? Rarely does a team go from missing the playoffs in seven of its past eight seasons to winning a Stanley Cup. But that's the narrative the Canucks are seeking to rewrite as they've made it beyond the second round only once since the 2010-11 season that saw them reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Vancouver also is trying to do this in a crowded Western Conference landscape that has seen quite a few teams encounter years of frustration before finally claiming the game's ultimate prize. Although the argument could be had that maybe all those years of missing the playoffs is the struggle that has set the stage for the Canucks this postseason.

Player to watch: Thatcher Demko. Before he sustained a knee injury on March 9, Demko was performing like one of the NHL's best goaltenders. He led the league with 34 wins while posting a 2.47 GAA and a .917 save percentage at the time of his injury. Demko returned to the lineup this Tuesday and finished with 39 saves and a .975 save percentage in a win against the Calgary Flames.

Bold prediction: Elias Lindholm will reach double figures in points during the playoffs. Although his time with the Canucks has had its challenges, Lindholm will play a major role in Vancouver's bid to get beyond the first round.


P2. Edmonton Oilers

Record: 49-26-6, 104 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Since Kris Knoblauch was hired to replace Jay Woodcroft in November, the Oilers have seemingly found answers to many of the questions facing them after their slow start. At times, they've looked like the most dangerous team in the league, evidenced by the fact they're third in goals scored per game and have given up the fifth fewest goals per game since Knoblauch was hired.

Could this be Edmonton's year? It was just two years ago when the Oilers reached the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual champion Avalanche. Last year, they reached the second round, where they were knocked out by the eventual champion Golden Knights. Could the lessons from the past few years lead this team to future glory?

Biggest flaws: Do the Oilers have the supporting cast that can help them win a championship? That remained a question throughout that second-round series against the Golden Knights. One of the avenues that allowed Vegas to beat Edmonton, and the rest of its playoff opponents, was that it could rely on its depth to win games.

This has been a challenge for the Oilers. Outside of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the only Oilers to score goals in those losses to the Golden Knights were Zach Hyman and Warren Foegele. Receiving consistent secondary scoring, along with the ability to parlay the success they've created with their defensive structure under a new coaching staff, could prove crucial to the Oilers' title aspirations.

Player to watch: Stuart Skinner. Among the questions Edmonton faced last postseason: Can Skinner be the goalie who leads it to a championship? His maiden playoff voyage was rocky. There were postseason games in which he had a save percentage exceeding .960, and there were also games in which he was pulled in favor of Jack Campbell. He looked solid this regular season, but until he proves his mettle in the postseason, those questions will linger.

Bold prediction: Adam Henrique will finish among the top five Oilers in playoff points. Again, secondary scoring will be crucial, and this is also a big opportunity for Henrique to make his mark after playing for non-playoff teams for most of the past decade.


P3. Los Angeles Kings

Record: 43-27-11, 97 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: Returning to the playoffs for a third straight season was thanks in part to the depth of the Kings' roster. They have four players who had more than 20 goals in the regular season, nine players who reached double figures in goals and 11 players who finished with more than 20 points. Four of those 11 players were defensemen.

Like a number of teams, Los Angeles also made a coaching change this season, replacing Todd McLellan with interim coach Jim Hiller. His arrival has led to the Kings becoming one of the stronger defensive teams in the NHL. Since he took over on Feb. 2, L.A. has allowed the third fewest goals per game and the fifth fewest shots per game and has a top-six penalty kill.

Biggest flaws: Do the Kings have enough to win a first-round series -- particularly against a team that has beaten them two years in a row? All the moves the front office has made over the past few years have made Los Angeles one of the more intriguing teams in the NHL, but getting beyond the first round has been the biggest challenge facing a franchise that's trying to cement itself as one of the West's elite teams.

Beating a conference power like the Oilers would emphatically answer those questions. But if the Kings don't prevail, general manager Rob Blake and his front office staff will be asking quite a few questions about what potential changes need to be made.

Player to watch: Pierre-Luc Dubois. Landing Dubois in a megatrade with the Jets -- and then signing him to a long-term contract -- was one of those moves that signaled the Kings' intent when it came to their aspirations. So far, Dubois' first season in L.A. hasn't gone as planned, given the 40 points he had through 80 games is the fewest he has had in a season in which he has played at least 70. Dubois is averaging 0.68 points per game in 38 career postseason contests, and he could use these playoffs to reframe his first season in Southern California.

Bold prediction: Dubois will lead the Kings in points during the playoffs. It'll allow them to force a Game 7 against the Oilers in a series that will see L.A. make another first-round exit.


WC1. Nashville Predators

Record: 47-30-5, 99 points

Case for a Stanley Cup run: There are two arguments that could explain why the Predators will go on a long run. The first is that the gulf between higher-seeded and lower-seeded teams isn't that wide anymore. Or at least that was the case last season when the Panthers upset the Bruins while the Seattle Kraken knocked out the Avs.

The second is that the Predators have been one of the NHL's most consistent teams since Feb. 17 -- the day their 18-game points streak started. Only the Hurricanes have won more games than the Preds since then. They're fourth in goals per game while allowing the fourth fewest goals per game in that time. Finding that sort of cohesion, while having experienced Cup winners such as Ryan McDonagh, Ryan O'Reilly and Luke Schenn on the team, makes Nashville one of the more intriguing teams to watch.

Biggest flaws: Could a general lack of playoff experience be a problem? One thing that has allowed the Preds to change their fortunes this season is the contributions made by players such as Luke Evangelista, Michael McCarron, Tommy Novak, Kiefer Sherwood and Cole Smith, among others. It's a group that also doesn't have much -- and in some cases, any -- playoff experience.

McCarron and Sherwood have combined to play in five games. Evangelista is a rookie, whereas Novak and Smith haven't played in the postseason before. Seeing how that particular group can handle the demands of the playoffs could play a sizable role in whether Nashville can get beyond the first round for the first time since the 2017-18 season.

Player to watch: Juuse Saros. He's one of the few goaltenders in the NHL who has started more than 60 games in each of the past three seasons. Even though the Preds haven't made it out of the first round in a few years, Saros was strong in his most recent postseason, back in 2021-22, when he finished with a .921 save percentage. And with one year left on his contract and the emergence of Yaroslav Askarov, there's added pressure to perform.

Bold prediction: The Predators will push the Canucks to seven games. Last year's postseason showed that lower-seeded teams can not only challenge the higher seeds in the first round but beat them. It's possible Nashville could be the next lower seed to advance to the second round or at least know it exited the first round on the brink of a major upset.