NHL 1st Round Predictions

by John Pagnotta | Apr 19, 2024 | General | 0 comments

Photo Credit: tnt.com
With most of the NHL teams either done with their regular season or playing in their 82nd game, it’s almost time for the best time in hockey: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are many exciting and compelling matchups in the 1st round, such as the Bruins vs. Maple Leafs, Panthers vs. Lightning, Jets vs. Avalanche, Oilers vs. Golden Knights, and much more! With that being said, here are my 2024 Stanley Cup Playoff 1st round predictions!

First Round: East

M1 New York Rangers vs WC2 Washington Capitals: Rangers in 5
M2 Carolina Hurricanes vs. M3 New York Islanders: Islanders in 7
A1 Florida Panthers vs. WC1 Tampa Bay Lightning: Lightning in 6
A2 Boston Bruins vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs: Bruins in 7

In the Eastern Conference, there will be 2 upsets, 2 series that reach a Game 7, and 1 very predictable series. The Capitals had a very surprising end to the season, outlasting the Penguins, Flyers, and Red Wings to clinch the 2nd WC and last playoff spot. This was after posting a historic -37 goal differential, averaging 2.63 GPG (bottom 5 in NHL), and going through several offensive slumps. The Blue Shirts were the best team in the regular season, as they had 114 points, had a top 5 PP and PK unit, and won the President’s Trophy. They enjoyed a dominant season from Artemi Panarin (49 G, 120 P), and solid seasons from Trocheck, Fox, Zibanejad, Igor, and Kreider. In addition, Jonathan Quick looked like he was in his prime while Alexis Lafreniere finally broke out in a big way (28 G, 23 A, 51 P). The curse from winning the President’s Trophy won’t show up here as the Rangers will dominate the Caps in 5 games.

The matchup between the other 2 teams in the Metro won’t be as dominant. The Islanders rose from the dead in the final 3 weeks of the regular season, as they went 7-0-1 to clinch 3rd in the Metro after having 4% playoff odds on March 27. As Ilya Sorokin struggled throughout the season, new coach Patrick Roy pivoted to Varlamov, which led to this exceptional stretch. Meanwhile, Carolina nearly won the Metro Division and the President’s Trophy, as they finished with an amazing 111 points. Sebastian Aho and Frederick Andersen had exceptional years for the Hurricanes, while the addition of Jake Guentzel has improved the Canes’ offense. In a rematch from last year, the Islanders will redeem themselves by winning the series in 7 games. Semyon Varlamov will start for the first 5 games for the Islanders, but as they trail 3-2 in the series, they will pivot back to franchise goalie Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin will carry the Isles through the final 2 games, as they will beat Carolina in 2 low-scoring affairs to advance to the 2nd round in a Battle of New York.

Photo Credit: dailyfaceoff.com
The Panthers vs. Lightning matchup will take place in a different setting. Usually, Tampa Bay is at the top of the Atlantic, but losing Andrei Vasilevisky for the first 2 months of the season hampered Tampa’s place in the standings. He didn’t look great when he returned and showed some rust, but he looked incredible during the Lightning’s playoff push, going 9-2-1 with a .922 SV%. Nikita Kucherov had an amazing year (44 G, 99 A, 143 P), as he will definitely win some hardware. Stamkos, Point, Hedman, and Hagel also had amazing seasons, and the addition of Anthony Duclair certainly improved an already dangerous offense. For the Panthers, they were the #1 defense in the NHL (2.42 GA), were led by 57 goals by Sam Reinhart, and solid seasons from Matthew Tkachuk, Barkov, Verhaeghe, Tarasenko, and Bennett. Goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz both had excellent years as well. However, this won’t matter as the Lightning offense will be too much to overcome for Florida, as Tampa will win the series in 6 games with Vasilevisky returning to playoff form.

Lastly, the Bruins vs. Maple Leafs will take place in Boston. Boston led the Atlantic for the majority of the season, but lost it in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday night, losing 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators. This gave the Panthers a chance to strike (which they did), and now Boston gets to face the Maple Leafs instead of Tampa Bay. The B’s lost Patrice Bergeron to retirement, but it didn’t matter as Pastrnak (47 G, 110 P) dominated play while they had big contributions from Marchand, Coyle, Zacha, McAvoy, DeBrusk, and Geekie. In addition, their dominant goalie tandem of Ullmark and Swayman led the bruins to having the 6th lowest GA per game (2.70). For Toronto, they were coming off a laughable playoff series win drought before John Tavares sent them to Round 2. The Leafs are coming off a historic year from Auston Matthews (69 goals), while Nylander and Mitch Marner also had 80+ point seasons. John Tavares, Reilly, Domi, Bertuzzi, and McCabe also had solid seasons/tenures in Toronto. The Leafs’ main weakness is on defense, as they allowed 3.18 GPG (20th in NHL) and had one of the worst PK units (76.9%). However, their offense was lethal, as they scored 3.6 GPG while finishing with a top 8 PP. The Bruins’ playoff experience will be too much for the Leafs, as Boston will win Game 7 to set up a Bruins vs. Lightning series that could’ve been in the first round.

First Round: West

C1 Dallas Stars vs. WC2 Vegas Golden Knights: Stars in 5
C2 Winnipeg Jets vs. C3 Colorado Avalanche: Avalanche in 6
P1 Vancouver Canucks vs. WC1 Nashville Predators: Canucks in 4
P2 Edmonton Oilers vs. P3 Los Angeles Kings: Oilers in 6

Heading into the West, it is filled with a less predictable playoff round than the East, as every team had over 98 points this season. The Stars were a juggernaut this season, only falling 1 point short of the President’s Trophy and finishing with 113 points. They had the 3rd highest goal differential in the NHL (+63), had a top 10 GA (2.83), and recorded the 4th highest goals per game (3.59). Their special teams was incredible, as they finished top 10 in PP and PK success. Interestingly, the Stars’ leading point scorer had 80 points (Robertson), but 9 players finished with over 50 points and 8 players scored over 20 goals. he defending champs took a bit of a fall after last season, but still qualified for the playoffs with 100 points. The Knights were led by Adin Hill’s early dominance, who still managed to have a solid year, and Logan Thompson’s reliability in net. Marchessault led the team in goals (42) and points (69), while Jack Eichel had 67 points in 62 games. In addition, the Knights had lots of scoring depth, as 9 players scored at least 13 goals and 10 players had at least 20 assists. Vegas wasn’t particularly dominant in any facet of the game, as they were in the middle in PP and PK success rate. Jake Oettinger’s return to form towards the end of the season will be the difference maker in the Stars’ dominance in this series, as Dallas will dismantle Vegas in 5 games.

The other 2 Central teams will begin their playoff series in Winnipeg. The Jets were led by Connor Hellebuyck’s Vezina play this season, as he went 37-19-4 with a 2.39 GAA, .921 SV%, and 5 shutouts in net. Laurent Brossoit was an excellent backup for Hellebuyck, recording a GAA around 2 and recording a .926 SV%. These 2 factors led to Winnipeg posting the best GAA in the NHL (2.42) and allowing the least goals in hockey (197). The Jets weren’t the strongest special teams and offensive team, but Mark Scheifele, Morrissey, Connor, and Ehlers all enjoyed solid seasons by scoring over 60 points each. On the other side, the Avs are led by their superteam in Cale Makar (89 points), Miko Rantanen (41 G, 104 P), and of course, Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon (51 G, 89 A, 140 P). The Avs had a lethal offense, scoring the most GPG (3.67) and having a top 5 PP unit. The Avs’ offense will be too much for the Jets’ stifling defense, as MacKinnon and co. will lead Colorado to win Games 5 and 6 to advance to the 2nd round.

Photo Credit: milehighsticking.com
The Canucks and Predators play each other in a very interesting matchup. Vancouver shocked the world this season by building off their hot start and finishing 1st in the Pacific, scoring 3.42 GPG, and having an outstanding 2.68 GA per game. After multiple seasons where they didn’t have a reliable starting goalie, Thatcher Demko had an incredible season and took a big step forward, going 35-13-2 with a 2.44 GAA, .918 SV% and 5 SO. In addition, they had big seasons from J.T Miller (37 G, 66 A, 103 P), Quinn Hughes (91 points), Pettersson (34 G, 89 P), and a breakout season from Brock Boeser (40 G, 33 A, 73 P). In Nashville, they don’t look like an ordinary playoff team. They had a similar GF to GA (3.24 to 3.02), a middle of the pack PP unit (21.6%), and a bottom PK unit (76.9%). So, how did this team make the playoffs? They were a very good team with protecting leads, which is why they won 38 out of their 47 wins in regulation. In addition, they went 3-0 in shootouts and 6-5 in OT, so they were usually guaranteed a point in over half the games they played. However, the Canucks are too good of a team, and they will steam past the Preds in 4 games.

The final matchup in the first round of the playoffs is the Edmonton Oilers vs. the LA Kings. The Oilers are coming off another dominant regular season, led by another crazy season from Connor McDavid (32 G, 100 A, 132 P), Leon Draisaitl (41 G, 65 A, 106 P), a ruthless offense and PP unit, and a career high 54 goals from Zach Hyman. The usual demise of the Oilers’ playoff runs is their defense and goaltending, but this wasn’t the case in the regular season. Stuart Skinner had a great season as the starter after taking over for Jack Campbell, going 36-16-5 with a 2.62 GAA, .905 SV%, and 2 SO while backup Calvin Pickard had a 2.48 GAA and .908 SV%. Edmonton also had a middle of the pack PK unit (79.5%), while recording the second most team shots in the league. It looked like the Kings would be playing against Dallas in the first round, but a shocking loss by Vegas last night paved the way for the Kings to take control of the 3rd spot in the Pacific. The Kings are polar opposites to Edmonton,, as they had special teams success on the PK (2nd), are a defensive-minded team (2.54 GA), and have much less scoring. Even though their offense was more bottom-ranked (3.07 GPG), the Kings had solid scoring depth, with 6 players scoring at least 50 points and 9 players scoring at least 10 goals. However, McDavid and co. will find their ways past this stingy defense and win the series in 6 games.

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My name is John Pagnotta and I live in Queens, NY. I am a sophomore at Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School. I am a huge fan of the Jets, Mets, Islanders, and Knicks. I started following sports when I was around 7 years old and I have not lost love for it ever since!

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