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TONY’S TAKE – 2024 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF SECOND ROUND PREVIEW

by Tony Fiorello

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 6, 2024: The Stanley Cup is staged for a visit by staff members of the Nevada Congressional Delegation at Capitol Hill on March 6, 2024 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images)


It’s the most wonderful time of the year.


Typically that’s a phrase one would hear around Christmas. But for hockey fans, there’s no better time of year to enjoy the game than the Stanley Cup playoffs. With storylines galore and the intensity at an all-time high, witnessing 16 teams battling for the right to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup is a sight to behold.


Throughout the postseason, Buffalo Sports Page will provide you with series previews and predictions from the start of round one through the finals. Previews will become more in-depth as the playoffs roll along, but for now here is our analysis of the second round:


EASTERN CONFERENCE

New York Rangers (1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (2)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 27: Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers celebrates a win with Igor Shesterkin #31 after defeating the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on December 27, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Mooney/NHLI via Getty Images)


Over the last few years, the importation of Artemi Panarin plus a pair of stud defensemen in Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox has turned the Rangers into one of the best teams in hockey. The names previously mentioned have been supported by Chris Krieder, Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck, who continue to shine on Broadway. Youngsters Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil (currently injured) have shown flashes of brilliance while veteran pickups Barclay Goodrow and Jack Roslovic have been brought in by general manager Chris Drury and new head coach Peter Laviolette to provide grit. Igor Shesterkin has been a worthy successor to Henrik Lundqvist in between New York’s pipes.

RALEIGH, NC - APRIL 22: Carolina Hurricanes Center Sebastian Aho (20) celebrates scoring during game two of the Eastern Conference First Round between the New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes on April 22, 2024 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Katherine Gawlik/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


For the first time since the team moved to Raleigh from Hartford, Carolina has reached the postseason for a sixth consecutive year. General manager Don Waddell and coach Rod Brind’Amour lead a team characterized by a combination of young guys (Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis, Martin Necas, Andre Svechnikov) and veterans (Teuvo Teravainen, Brent Burns, Jordan Staal, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei). That mix, plus trade deadline pickups Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov, has churned out positive results via Brind’Amour’s stifling defensive system and the goaltending duo of Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov have brought stability to the Canes’ crease.


PREDICTION

Hurricanes in seven. This may be the best Hurricanes team on paper since the 2005-06 edition that won the Cup, and while the Rangers may have the edge in goal Carolina’s lineup is slightly deeper than New York’s is. Additionally, that ’05-06 squad featured Brind’Amour as captain for Laviolette’s team – according to Dan Rosen of nhl.com, this will be the first playoff series since 1947 in which the opposing coaches won a Cup together in that fashion.


Florida Panthers (1) vs. Boston Bruins (2)

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 21: Matthew Tkachuk #19 and Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers look during third period action against the St Louis Blues at the Amerant Bank Arena on December 21, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)


Florida is playoff-bound for the fifth straight year (the first time in franchise history that’s happened), and the appointment of the well-traveled Paul Maurice a year ago to replace the tandem of Andrew Brunette and future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville has given the Panthers some much-needed guidance behind the bench. Maurice inherited a team bolstered at forward by Selke Trophy-winner Alex Barkov and gritty Matthew Tkachuk, supplemented by quality depth in Sam Reinhart, Carter Verhaeghe, Anton Lundell, Vladimir Tarasenko and Sam Bennett. Defensively the Panthers are held down by Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour. In goal the aging Sergei Bobrovsky has turned back the clock and was outstanding in the regular season with a 2.37 goals-against-average, a .915 save percentage and six shutouts.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 4: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins scores in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Seven of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on May 4, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)


A year after setting the NHL record for wins in a season and shockingly bowing out in the first round, the Boston Bruins and coach Jim Montgomery have a nice mix of older players left from their Cup runs of the past decade and youngsters who have come into their own. While names like two-way extraordinaire Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara have retired in recent years, super-pest Brad Marchand, sniper David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo remain from the old guard. Veteran imports like Pavel Zacha, Hampus Lindholm, Morgan Geekie and James van Riemsdyk have helped keep the Bruins’ window for contention open while the tandem of Linus Ullmark (who enjoyed a career year last season) and Jeremy Swayman has stepped in for the retiring Tuukka Rask.


PREDICTION

Panthers in six. While the Bruins emerged from a first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs victorious yet again, they’re running into a buzzsaw in Florida who ousted them last year when Boston blew a 3-1 series lead. Boston, whose offensive success is driven by the play of their wingers and McAvoy, doesn’t have the depth up the middle to match the Panthers’.


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Edmonton Oilers (2)

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 8: Quinn Hughes #43 of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by teammates Conor Garland #8, Brock Boeser #6, Elias Pettersson #40, and J.T. Miller #9 after scoring during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on April 8, 2024 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)


Back in the postseason for the first time since 2020, the Vancouver Canucks finally have a legitimate blueprint implemented by Jim Rutherford, Patrick Allvin and Rick Tocchet and so far it’s going according to plan. Paced by a core of forwards (Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser and Conor Garland) and defensemen (Quinn Hughes, Filip Hronek) in their prime, and surrounded by battle-tested pros (Elias Lindholm, Tyler Myers, Teddy Blueger and Ian Cole), this team is an interesting mix of young and old. Thatcher Demko is the unquestioned starter in goal – however because of injuries to both he and backup Casey DeSmith, Arturs Silovs is now the team’s backstopper.

EDMONTON, CANADA - MAY 01: Zach Hyman #18 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his second-period goal against the Los Angeles Kings with teammates Leon Draisaitl #29, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Evan Bouchard #2 and Connor McDavid #97 in Game Five of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on May 1, 2024, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)


Edmonton continues to blossom in the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl era, and the all-world duo (each had over 100 points again – McDavid became one of just five players ever with a 100-assist season) isn’t doing it alone. With Zach Hyman (who had a career-high 54 goals), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane, Adam Henrique and Corey Perry in tow, the Oilers have good secondary scoring threats. The team is held down on the rear by defenders Darnell Nurse, Cody Ceci, Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm. Stuart Skinner is solid in net for new head coach Kris Knoblauch, who took over behind the bench after a slow start to the season cost Jay Woodcroft his job.


PREDICTION

Oilers in six. While Vancouver has proven to be a team on the rise, Edmonton has a deeper roster and – should Demko continue to be unavailable – better talent in goal.


Dallas Stars (1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (3)

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 28:Jake Oettinger #29 and Joe Pavelski #16 of the Dallas Stars celebrate their NHL game win against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on March 28, 2024 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Dallas won 3-1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)


The Dallas Stars have reached the postseason for the seventh time in the last 11 years. Older forwards like 39-year-old Joe Pavelski, captain Jamie Benn (34) and Tyler Seguin (32) are still steady point producers as they age while guys with fresher legs like Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson and Wyatt Johnson are key contributors. Defensemen Miro Heiskanen, Ryan Suter and Esa Lindell have continued to perform well on the back end while Thomas Harley has had a breakout campaign. 25-year-old Jake Oettinger has been stellar in goal for coach Peter DeBoer and general manager Jim Nill, and offseason pickup Matt Duchene has been a nice piece to the team’s puzzle.

WINNIPEG, CANADA - APRIL 21: Mikko Rantanen #96, Artturi Lehkonen #62, Valeri Nichushkin #13, Cale Makar #8 and Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrate a third period goal against the Winnipeg Jets in Game One of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Canada Life Centre on April 21, 2024 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)


Two years removed from winning the Cup, the Colorado Avalanche – blessed with studs like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Devon Toews and captain Gabriel Landeskog (who has missed each of the last two years with numerous injuries) – can certainly light up scoreboards. They’re no slouches in their own end either, as names like Josh Manson and Samuel Girard make life easier for coach Jared Bednar. Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen, Casey Mittelstadt, Jonathan Drouin, Andrew Cogliano, Ross Colton and Zach Parise are reliable supporting characters and the talented but inconsistent Alexander Georgiev is the Avs’ starter in net.


PREDICTION

Avs in seven. Dallas does have the advantage in goal and is the better defensive club, but as well as Johnson has carried the Stars lately and as talented as Robertson is, they don’t hold a candle to the amount of offensive skill that Colorado boasts.

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