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2024 Stanley Cup First Round Playoff preview: Eastern Conference

Jordan Staal faces off against Jean-Gabriel Pageau at PNC Arena in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Image Credits: Jaylynn Nash

M2 Carolina Hurricanes vs. M3 New York Islanders

I'm picking the Carolina Hurricanes to defeat the New York Islanders in 5 games. It's not even close in my eyes, because I cannot think of a single metric in which the Islanders have a clear-cut advantage. Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov are an equal if not superior duo to Sorokin and Varlamov, the Islanders can't score goals, and don't have a deep defensive core like the Hurricanes do. Not only that, but the Hurricanes won both previous series against them, and with a very similar team. The Islanders made a cute little run with their -17 goal differential and with Patrick Roy behind the bench, but it's real now, and the Hurricanes will make quick work of this team.

Artemi Panarin celebrates a goal against Washington at Madison Square Garden with Vincent Trocheck.

Image Credits: Brad Penner, USA Sports

M1 New York Rangers vs. WC2 Washington Capitals

I have to pick the Rangers in 6 for this First Round series. I am aware of the Washington Capitals and their -37 goal differential, making them the worst playoff team since the 1990-91 Vancouver Canucks and the Hartford Whalers, but those teams still pushed their respective series to 6 and 7 games. The Capitals have a 20-2 record in games decided by 1 goal, and that is often what the playoffs come to, so they won't make it easy on the Rangers.

A1 Florida Panthers vs. WC1 Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos shakes Carter Verhaeghe's hand after a Game 6 loss eliminated the Florida Panthers from the 2021 First Round.

Image Credits: Scott Audette

This was the toughest of the series to pick, but this year I have Florida winning in 7. The Lightning seemed like a shell of themselves last year against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and though I see them doing better this time around, the Panthers have matured since 2022, and have gotten much better. This is not the same team that they beat in back-to-back years in 2021 and 2022. Since then the Panthers have been to a Stanley Cup Final, have improved on their defensive game with Paul Maurice behind the bench, and have gotten quality goaltending all year long.

Brad Marchand Protects the puck from Maple Leafs captain John Tavares in a game at TD Garden.

Image Credits: YouTube

A2 Boston Bruins vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs

This series was not a hard pick at all, and not just because it ended the same way the last 3 times, but because there is a mountain of evidence to support the Bruins winning in 7. First of all, the Leafs have not won a playoff series over the Boston Bruins since 1959, and Boston has 6 straight series wins over them. The other thing is that despite the departure of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci in the same offseason, they still managed quite well with Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle. The other thing is that the Maple Leafs do not have great coaching, and the disappointment from Matthews not getting his 70th goal of the year could carry over into the playoffs. For this series, I cannot see the Leafs shaking the Game 7 curse, as last year was a one-off, so Boston will eliminate Toronto in 7, as usual.

Conclusion: I did not pick any upset for the 2024 Stanley Cup First Round on the East side, but if I had to pick one, it would be Washington, and only because of their incredible luck around 1-goal games.

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