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2024 Division Semifinals Preview

Previewing the opening round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Clyde E. DawkinsPublished 30 days ago 8 min read
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It's here, folks! It's finally here!

The 2023-24 NHL regular season is over and done with, and after six months and 1,312 games played, it's now time for the greatest championship chase in all of sports. Winning the Stanley Cup is absolutely difficult. Hell, just getting to the Final is a rough journey. Yet, for the 44th year, it will be sixteen teams fighting their way to capture the greatest trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup. Four of these 16 teams have never won it all, and one of those four hasn't even been to the Final. In addition, four of the 16 team teams in this year's playoffs are Canadian, meaning that there's a 25% chance that the three decades long Cup drought in that country will come to an end,

16 teams playing in eight thrilling series, and they are as follows:

Atlantic Division Semifinals

The Florida franchises meet in the playoffs for the third time in four years

Amazing that this series will pit the last four Eastern Conference Champions against each other. The Tampa Bay Lightning reached three straight Cup Finals from 2020-2022, but it's the Florida Panthers who are defending the Prince of Wales Trophy, as they reached the Final last year as part of a wave of improbable runs that took place in 2023. The Panthers locked up the Atlantic Division on their 82nd and last game of the season; their second division title in three years, but let's face it, this team is so undermanned. Sam Reinhart's tearing it up with 57 goals, but that goals lead is a big one. Second on the team is Carter Verhaeghe--with 34 goals.

Regarding Tampa Bay, the main story of this season has been Nikita Kucherov, as he captured the Art Ross Trophy as the points leader with 144--with 100 of those points being helpers. He also has the usual suspects along for the ride: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and of course, Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. However, the Lightning are coming off a first round exit against the Maple Leafs, and one has to wonder if the Bolts still have that magic they've had in their three long runs.

This is the third playoff meeting between the Florida teams, proof that this current format works. This rivalry needed a spark, and we are definitely getting it. The Panthers have had home ice advantage in all meetings, but the Lightning won the past two playoff meetings in 2021 and 2022.

The Bruins and Leafs are meeting for the first time since 2019

Well, here we go again, folks.

The Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs will run into each other again--the fourth time in the last dozen seasons. We all know the history there. Patrice Bergeron in 2013, a Game Seven lead destroyed in 2018, and getting blasted in Game Seven in 2019. The Bruins had served as the centerpiece of the Leafs' playoff woes; in fact, the Leafs haven't won a playoff series over the Bruins since 1959. Think about how long ago that was. There were six teams in the NHL, Eisenhower was in the White House, the Boston Red Sox finally integrated, and Joe DeRita joined The Three Stooges.

However, this time will be different. The Bruins are not a deep team. It's basically Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak surrounded by a bunch of nothing. The Maple Leafs have Mitch Marner. They have William Nylander. They have Morgan Rielly. They have John Tavares and, most importantly, they have Auston Matthews. Matthews put 69 pucks into the net this season, and he's surrounded by loads of talented players. Leafs beat a way better team than Boston last year. This year, Leafs will advance again.

Metropolitan Division Semifinals

The Rangers and Capitals last met in 2015

Two years ago, the New York Rangers fell two wins short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. I figured I'd see another long run from the Rangers, but last year saw them out in Round 1. With that, I was looking to see how the Rangers would respond this year. 55 wins, 114 points, the Presidents' Trophy. Yeah, I'd say it's a good response. Of course, the Presidents' Trophy is...well...cursed. 2013 was the last time a team won the Trophy and the Cup in the same season. The Rangers were part of that curse, but in the last ten times the Trophy was awarded, the Rangers (2015) were the only team out of that bunch to at least reach the Conference Finals.

That year was also the last time that the Rangers faced off against the Washington Capitals, who somehow, and I mean somehow, got into the playoffs this year. The Capitals were sputtering all season long, it looked like the only relevant thing from the team was Alex Ovechkin's pursuit of the goals record. Yet the Capitals capitalized (no pun intended) on the Flyers slipping on banana peels (and handing some to the Red Wings and Penguins), and managed to make it into the playoffs, with a -37 goal differential. However, if the 2019 Blue Jackets and last year's Panthers have taught us, it's to expect the impossible.

The Hurricanes defeated the Islanders in last year's opening round

For the second straight year, the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders will run into each other in the opening round. Last year's series was a thrilling one, and it ended with the Hurricanes winning Game Six in overtime to oust the Isles. The Isles were in "happy to be there" mode last year, and while that aura's still there this year, there's a slightly higher expectation this time. The Isles underwent another drastic coaching change, this time hiring Patrick Roy in place of Lane Lambert. The wins have come for the Islanders, but they need to solve their overtime woes.

As for the Hurricanes, they are running out of time. Their window is closing. Last year was their best chance to win it all; they managed to reach the Eastern Conference Final, but once again, that served as their kryptonite. The Hurricanes have to go farther this year, because if they don't, we could see some downsizing. They traded for Jake Guentzel because they knew that they needed to go real far, or they'll face yet another disappointing season.

Central Division Semifinals

The Golden Knights defeated the Stars in last year's Western Conference Final

The Vegas Golden Knights achieved the ultimate goal last season, when they won the Stanley Cup in their sixth year. However, Year Seven has been quite shaky. It looked like Vegas would miss the playoffs for the second time in three years, but because we can't have nice things, here they are. And they're conveniently getting Mark Stone back. Yikes. Even with Stone, it's an uphill battle for Vegas. After all, they were the last team to clinch a spot this season, though then again, so was Florida last year.

Vegas will face off against the Dallas Stars, who enter the playoffs as the #1 team in the Western Conference. This is their third playoff meeting already; the first time was in the Edmonton bubble in 2020, with Dallas winning the Western Conference Final over Vegas. Last year, it was Vegas defeating Dallas in the WCF. Dallas looks like a strong team this year, but this is the NHL, where having one of the best records doesn't mean a thing. This should be very, very interesting.

The Avs had never faced the Jets in the playoffs

Oooh boy, this should be very good.

It's amazing. Entering this year, the Avs had faced everyone in the Western Conference at least once in the playoffs. The one team we hadn't faced? The Winnipeg Jets. Well, here we are. This was the first of the eight series to become set in stone, and the rest of the season determined home-ice, and it went to Winnipeg. The Jets are loaded this year. They dealt well, they signed well, and they have quite a stacked team. The Jets look quite dangerous in every position.

You know who else you can say that about? The Avalanche.

The Avs are two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup. Yes, last year did not end well for us, but I honestly think this year was better than last, despite the fact that we were in a better position last year. I think we became a bit more used to playing without Gabriel Landeskog, compared to last year where we had to adjust. Plus, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen dominated, and so did Valeri Nichushkin. Jonathan Drouin is having a career year, but we have to hope that he'll be part of this playoff party, as he ended up out of Game 82 in the third period. The Avs start on Sunday, so here's hoping that Saturday night sees good news regarding Drouin's availability.

Pacific Division Semifinals

The Predators have won one playoff series since reaching the Cup Final in 2017

The Vancouver Canucks had quite the strong season, going from a few disaster seasons after the bubble, to having one of the best seasons in franchise history. They have an amazing group leading them; J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and goalie Thatcher Demko. It's amazing how the Canucks have performed this year, and as a result, the expectations are absolutely high.

As for the Nashville Predators, this team wasn't expected to be in the playoffs. They were off to a shaky start, and they were behind the playoff line entering American Thanksgiving. Yet they really tore it up in the latter month of the season. An 18-game points streak. That'll do it. Preds could be that team who could deliver a massive upset, and the Canucks are capable of being that team who gets upset quite a bit. We'll see what happens here.

The Oilers and Kings are meeting for the third straight year

It's like the Smythe Division never went away.

For the third straight season, the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings will face off in Round 1. Unfortunately for the Kings, the last two matchups did not go their way; a seven game loss in 2022, and a six game loss last year. For the Kings, the "happy to be there" aura is gone, or at least, it needs to be. 2022 was a happy accident, and it saw them make it to Game Seven. 2023 was a learning experience, but they finished one game behind 2022. This year needs to be the year where they emerge and finally win a series for the first time since their last Stanley Cup victory in 2014.

As for the Oilers, they really need to stop getting in their own way, but let's face it, we know they'll fuck it up. The Oilers can't keep getting away with having bad starts to the season. 2022 was the year where I said that the Oilers can be capable of having long runs, but then, they go backwards. I can't help but sense more spiraling from the Oilers. It's what they do best.

And there you have it: the eight Division Semifinals matchups! This year is the third year of the NHL's relationship with ESPN and Turner Sports. In the U.S., the two sides will have national coverage of the first round, while also allowing the regional sports networks to air opening round games as well. In Canada, Sportsnet will air the first round nationally. It begins, folks! Thrilling plays, nail biting moments, and best of all, marathon overtime! No shootouts, 20-minute overtime period(s), and they play until someone scores. We had a four-OT game last year! Do we get one again this year? I hope so, as long as the Avs aren't involved; we need to score quickly in OT like we did in 2022.

It all starts on Saturday, and I only have two words to say: LET'S GO!!!

hockey
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About the Creator

Clyde E. Dawkins

I am an avid fan of sports and wrestling, and I've been a fan of female villains since the age of eight. Also into film and TV, especially Simpsons and Family Guy.

Feel free to follow my social media:

Twitter - Facebook - Tiktok - Instagram

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  • Philip Gipson30 days ago

    Thanks for this stellar preview!

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