NHL playoffs picks, predictions for 2024 hockey brackets and Stanley Cup Final

What’s better than hockey? Playoff hockey. 

The 2024 NHL playoffs kick off on Saturday, as 16 teams get set to embark on the quest for the Stanley Cup. Hockey’s postseason never fails to deliver on the theatrics, and it should be no different in 2024. 

As is the case every year, there are so many intriguing storylines heading into the postseason. In the Eastern Conference, the Rangers are out to prove the Presidents’ Trophy curse is but a thing of the past, the Panthers are aiming to get back to the Stanley Cup Final to avenge their loss last year, and the Lighting are out to prove they are still capable of winning it all. 

In the Western Conference, the Golden Knights have targets on their backs, entering the playoffs as the defending champions. The Avalanche are trying to rebound after a first-round exit last year, and the Oilers still are looking to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in the Connor McDavid era. 

NHL PLAYOFFS: FULL BRACKET | | SCHEDULE | ODDS

The Sporting News gives out its predictions for the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

You can see the latest 2024 Stanley Cup odds at BetMGM.

The Sporting News 2024 NHL playoff predictions

Eastern Conference

First round

Matchup Series
(A1) Florida Panthers vs. (WC1) Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2
(A2) Boston Bruins vs. (A3) Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3
(M1) New York Rangers vs. (WC2) Washington Capitals 4-1
(M2) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (M3) New York Islanders 4-2

Second round

Matchup Series
(A2) Boston Bruins vs. (WC1) Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2
(M1) New York Rangers vs. (M2) Carolina Hurricanes 4-3

Eastern Conference Final

Matchup Series
(M2) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (WC1) Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3

There’s no sugar-coating it — the Eastern Conference is a bloodbath. In my opinion, there are six teams that can win it all, and yet, at least two of those teams are guaranteed to be out before the second round. 

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In the first round, the Rangers and Hurricanes should make fairly easy work of the Capitals and Islanders, respectively. The Isles certainly will put up a better fight against the Canes, however, I don’t see either underdog coming out on top.

As in 2013, 2018, and 2019, the Bruins and Maple Leafs will give the fans a must-watch series that goes the limit, but the fourth time won’t be the charm for Toronto, as Boston comes out on top yet again.

The biggest upset in the first round comes in the Battle of Florida, as the Lightning knock off the Panthers — the defending Eastern Conference champs — in six games. Tampa Bay will prove yet again it is a team built for the postseason, 

For the second round, the Lightning continue on its quest to take out its Atlantic Division rivals, delivering another early exit for the Bruins. Tampa Bay ended Boston’s season in 2018 and 2020, and Jon Cooper’s crew will deliver the same fate to the Spoked B in 2024. The Hurricanes and Rangers square off in a test between the two best Metro teams all year, but it’s Carolina that punches its ticket to a second consecutive Eastern Conference Final. 

That sets up a Hurricanes-Lightning Eastern Conference Final. Tampa Bay is 3-0 in its past three appearances in the conference finals (2020, 2022, 2021), while Carolina has yet to win a game in its past three ECF showings, getting swept in 2009, 2019, and 2023. That changes in 2024, as the Hurricanes finally get over the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning it all in 2006. 

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Western Conference

First round

Matchup Series
(C1) Dallas Stars vs. (WC2) Vegas Golden Knights 4-2
(C2) Winnipeg Jets vs. (C3) Colorado Avalanche 4-2
(P1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (WC1) Nashville Predators 4-3
(P2) Edmonton Oilers vs. (P3) Los Angeles Kings 4-1

Second round

Matchup Series
(C1) Dallas Stars vs. (C2) Colorado Avalanche 4-2
(P1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (P2) Edmonton Oilers 4-1

Conference final

Matchup Winner
(C1) Dallas Stars vs. (P2) Edmonton Oilers  4-2

On paper, the Western Conference is not as deep as the Eastern Conference is. However, that does mean it’s lacking true contenders, especially in the Central Division. 

Starting in the first round, the Stars will have to bear down to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champions, but Dallas should be able to grind its way to a win, especially with Jake Oettinger heating up as of late.

While the Predators are scorching hot heading into the playoffs, the Canucks have been too good for too long, and I think Vancouver narrowly avoids an upset.

For the third year in a row, it’s Edmonton-Los Angeles in the first time. It should be no different this year, as the Oilers shouldn’t have a problem against the Kings, as Connor McDavid and Co. advance to the second round for the third straight year.

It’s almost unfair that someone has to lose the Jets-Avalanche series since both have been at the top of the standings all year long, but it’s hard to see Nathan MacKinnon and Colorado losing in the first round for the second consecutive postseason. 

In the second round, what’s Colorado’s reward for beating Winnipeg? A date with Dallas. While the Avs might have more star power, they can’t match the scoring depth that the Stars have, and that may be the difference in the series. As for the Oilers and Canucks, this is where Edmonton’s playoff experience comes in handy, and we will see McDavid reach his second Western Conference Final. 

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A Stars-Oilers matchup would be absolutely fascinating. It’s two teams that excel in transition and play with tons of speed. McDavid eventually is going to reach the Stanley Cup Final, but I have too many concerns about Edmonton’s defense. Dallas will get back to the final stage of the postseason for the first time since 2021.  

Stanley Cup Final

(Getty Images)

The Stars and Hurricanes feel like two teams that have tons of scoring depth, play really sound defense, and have top-notch goaltending. It’s going to be a chess match between Pete DeBoer and Rod Brind’Amour in this series. 

Carolina has been a top contender for what feels like multiple years now, but the Canes have yet to put it all together. Similar to the Avalanche, who suffered multiple early exits before going on their Stanley Cup run in 2022, it feels once the Hurricanes finally reach the Stanley Cup Final, they won’t be denied. 

The biggest reason? The Hurricanes have been one piece away for years and have yet to go out and get that guy. They did this year, landing Jake Guentzel at the trade deadline, and the winger has been an absolutely perfect fit in Carolina. He’s the missing piece on offense and an excellent playoff performer. 

Brind’Amour brought the franchise its first Stanley Cup as a player in 2006, and he’ll bring Raleigh its second, this time as a coach, in 2024. 

Prediction: Hurricanes over Stars, 4-3

Conn Smythe Award winner prediction: Jake Guentzel, Hurricanes

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