2024 NHL Playoffs First Round

After 82 regular season games for each team, the first round of the 2024 NHL Playoffs are just about to begin. It was a season that saw some historic scoring outputs, including 100 assists for both Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov, plus a 69-goal season from Auston Matthews. All three superstars and their respective teams (Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs) will participate in the postseason, as McDavid and Matthews look to end what is a 30-year Stanley Cup drought for Canadian teams.

The reigning Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights are an underdog in their first-round series against the Dallas Stars, while the Florida Panthers look to win the only series that they failed to triumph in last postseason as the second favorite (+700) behind the Carolina Hurricanes (+650).


It should be an exciting tournament and we’ve got some first-round thoughts and series betting odds.

Eastern Conference Playoffs

A1 Florida Panthers (-180) vs WC1 Tampa Bay Lightning (+150)

The Panthers won the Atlantic Division with 110 points and would be the No. 3 seed in a traditional postseason setting, as the Rangers (114) and Hurricanes (110) finished with more points. This Sunshine State battle will actually feature the last two Eastern Conference champions, as the Panthers played in the Cup Finals last season and the Lightning lost to the Avalanche in 2022. It was actually Tampa Bay’s third straight Finals appearance after lifting the sterling silver trophy in 2020 and 2021.

The Lightning finished with 98 points, but they did outscore the Panthers by 23 goals during the regular season. However, they also allowed 68 more goals, so this series features an offense vs. defense element that should make for a quality matchup. Only the Capitals scored fewer 5-v-5 goals during the regular season among playoff teams than the Panthers, who actually got a bit unlucky on the scoring front. They had more high-danger chances at 5-v-5 than the Lightning, but couldn’t capitalize. They had the fifth-lowest shooting percentage (SH%) at 5-v-5, while Tampa had the seventh-highest.

We’ll see if the Bolts can lock it down defensively and flex their 5-v-5 scoring muscles. If Tampa can tighten up defensively, it could be an interesting series, as the Panthers allowed the fewest 5-v-5 goals with just 119. Tampa allowed the fifth-most with 190 and was actually -19 in 5-v-5 scoring. If Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has a 2.37 GAA and a .921 SV% in 110 career playoff games, can turn it up like he has in the postseason, the Lightning can absolutely pull the upset.

Keep an eye on Tampa’s league-leading power play as well, as the Lightning’s 28.6% success rate easily led the league. Florida cashed in at 23.5%, and also finished one spot behind Tampa in penalty killing success. Special teams may be a huge factor as well.

Pick: Lightning in 6

A2 Boston Bruins (-125) vs. A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (+105)

We’ve got an Original Six battle here between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, as Toronto looks to slay a lot of playoff demons. Last year’s Maple Leafs squad won a playoff series for the first time since 2004, but got bounced by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Panthers. 

These two teams were separated by seven points during the regular season, as Toronto dropped four straight to finish the regular season. Boston only had one more win. This is another offense vs. defense test, as the Maple Leafs led the Eastern Conference with 303 goals, but they gave up 39 more goals than the Bruins. It helped to have 69 tucks from Matthews, who had 12 more than any other player, but William Nylander was also a 40-goal scorer.

Boston does have a choice to make in the postseason, as both Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark ranked in the top 10 in GAA and top seven in SV% during the regular season. Two dependable goaltenders is a real luxury in the postseason, but picking the one to take the reins has to be keeping head coach Jim Montgomery up at night. 

Statistically, the Bruins allowed the third-fewest 5-v-5 goals with 135, while Toronto was around the middle of the pack with 168. The Maple Leafs were the only NHL team to score 200 goals at 5-v-5 and finished +32 in that department, while the Bruins were +39. Special teams could also be a big factor here, as Toronto had a bottom-10 PK%, but made up for it with a top-10 power play. Boston had a top-10 PK and a middle of the pack PP unit.

Goaltending is an annual question mark for the Leafs and will be again here, as Ilya Samsonov had a GAA of 3.13 and a SV% of just 89%.

Pick: Bruins in 7

M1 New York Rangers (-450) vs. WC2 Washington Capitals (+340)

The Rangers are easily the biggest favorite of the first round. The tandem of Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Quick played extremely well in net, but the Capitals have a borderline top-15 goaltender of their own from this season in Charlie Lindgren, who finished T-13th in SV% with Quick and 16th in GAA. Shesterkin was 11th and Quick was 13th.

Offensively, though, these teams are not very comparable. The Rangers scored 282 goals and finished +53 in goal differential, whereas the Capitals scored just 220 goals and finished -37 in differential. The Islanders are the only other team in the postseason with a negative goal differential.

That being said, the Rangers only finished +1 in 5-v-5 goal differential. They made a lot of hay in the special teams department with the third-best PP% at 26.4% and the third-best PK% at 84.5%. The Capitals were in the middle of the pack in both areas.

MVP candidate Artemi Panarin finished the season with 120 points and the leading scorer for the Caps, Dylan Strome, only had 67 points. Alex Ovechkin had 31 goals, but his pace really slowed down in terms of chasing down Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal-scoring record. Ovechkin did play much better in the latter portion of the season to help the Capitals to this point, but they are sorely lacking firepower with only three 20-goal scorers.

Lindgren will have to be insanely good to overcome the lack of offense and the Capitals are going to have to find cracks in the Rangers’ special teams’ armor to have any hope.

Pick: Rangers in 5

M2 Carolina Hurricanes (-340) vs. M3 New York Islanders (+280)

The second-biggest favorite also comes from the Metropolitan Division, as the Hurricanes, who had the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference, draw the Islanders, who are one of two teams with a negative goal differential entering the postseason. As mentioned, the Hurricanes are the Stanley Cup favorites.

On paper, this does appear to be a major mismatch. The Islanders finished -17 in goal differential and the Hurricanes were second to the Panthers with a +63 diff. Carolina was +23 in 5-v-5 scoring diff, while the Islanders were actually quite solid at +8. Once again, massive special teams discrepancies are a big part of the equation here.

The Hurricanes finished with the second-best PP% at 26.9% and led the league by nearly 2% in PK% at 86.4%. The Islanders, meanwhile, had the worst penalty kill in the league at 71.5%. The power play was around league average, but opponents feasted with the man advantage and Carolina appears very likely to do the same.

Pyotr Kochetkov finished second in GAA and T-13th in SV%. The Islanders actually got a lot of saves from both Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, who have played in a timeshare since Varlamov got healthy in mid-March. Varlamov should get the nod after playing very well down the stretch, but, like I mentioned, two goalies at this time of the year is a luxury not often afforded to teams.

Still, the Islanders look outgunned and overmatched here, especially in the special teams department.

Pick: Hurricanes in 5

Western Conference Playoffs

C1 Dallas Stars (-140) vs. WC2 Vegas Golden Knights (+120)

Vegas runs into old friend Peter DeBoer in this one, as the reigning Cup champs and head coach Bruce Cassidy enter the postseason as a slight underdog. None of the first-round series in the Western Conference are outlandishly priced like two of the Eastern Conference series are, so it will be interesting to see if these live up to the hype.

Dallas finished one point behind the Rangers for the Presidents Trophy and had the same number of wins as the Jets. Vegas comfortably made the playoffs as the final wild card team with 98 points, 15 fewer than the Stars. The reigning champs never really seemed to get on track and put it all together, plus they battled a litany of injuries during the season.

Returns from injury are a huge story here, as the Golden Knights have come under fire from some fans and analysts for their use of the LTIR (long-term injured reserve) salary cap loopholes. Mark Stone is expected to return for this series after not playing most of the year and he could inject a lot of life into this roster. 

Despite the injuries and inconsistent goaltending, VGK finished +13 in 5-v-5 scoring. That’s quite a few steps below Dallas at +32, as the Stars scored more goals and allowed fewer goals. They also graded extremely well in a lot of other 5-v-5 metrics, including the third-fewest high-danger chances allowed.

Like so many of the league’s top teams, Dallas also shined both ways on special teams, which represents yet another advantage over Vegas, who was in the middle of the pack in both areas.

But, one potential advantage for the Knights could come in net, where Logan Thompson and Adin Hill both had better GAA and SV% marks than Dallas’s tandem of Jake Oettinger and Scott Wedgewood. Oettinger really struggled in last year’s postseason with a 3.06 GAA and an .895 SV% after playing a tremendous series in 2022 against Calgary. Play between the pipes could be the great equalizer here.

Pick: Stars in 7

C2 Winnipeg Jets (+115) vs. C3 Colorado Avalanche (-135)

This is the only first-round series in which the lower seed is the favorite, as the Avs will start on the road in Manitoba. Not having home ice could be a big deal for Colorado, as they posted a league-best 31-9-1 record in Denver. They were just 19-16-6 on the road. Winnipeg, meanwhile, had the second-most road wins among Western Conference teams at 25-13-3.

There are so many interesting storylines in this series. Connor Hellebuyck should win his second career Vezina Trophy after putting forth a 37-win season with a 2.39 GAA and a .921 SV%. But, he’s likely to have his hands full against the NHL’s most dynamic offense. The Avs led the league with 304 goals and were one of two teams with two 100-point scorers. Nathan MacKinnon finished second to Kucherov with 140 points and Mikko Rantanen had 104 points.

Colorado also has the most dynamic defenseman on the offensive side in Cale Makar, who finished just behind Quinn Hughes with 90 points. Hughes had 92, but played in five more games. Winnipeg’s leading scorer was Mark Scheifele with just 72 points. The Jets win with defense, as the only team in the league to allow fewer than 200 goals for a +60 goal differential. Colorado’s goal diff was +50, largely because Alexandar Georgiev wasn’t very good in net.

Georgiev had a 3.02 GAA and an .897 SV%. Colorado’s offense certainly covered up for some lackluster performance in net. Can they do that here against the Jets and Hellebuyck? That is arguably the most compelling storyline of the first round.

Pick: Avalanche in 6

P1 Vancouver Canucks (-150) vs. WC1 Nashville Predators (+130)

What a season it has been for the Canucks. Their only playoff appearance since 2015 came in the COVID bubble back in 2020 and they lost in the second round. Rick Tocchet had the interim tag stripped at the end of last season and led the team to its first 50-win season in over a decade.

This is a really solid all-around team, but so are the Predators, just without the same dynamism on offense. The Canucks were +56 in goal differential and the Predators were +21. Nashville actually won more games on the road than at home, so this will not be an easy series, even though the Canucks had 10 more points during the regular season. As the line implies, this should be a good battle.

That being said, Thatcher Demko was a top-five netminder by GAA and SV%, while Juuse Saros had a pretty average season on the whole. Demko missed over a month from early March to mid-April, so he is actually pretty fresh now after getting a lot of work early in the season. He wound up playing 51 games, while Saros played 64. Demko was able to return for a couple of games to shake off the rust before the playoff pairings were set.

The Canucks actually finished +51 in 5-v-5 goal differential, one of the most dominant showings in the NHL. The Predators were +15. Vancouver’s fairly pedestrian special teams still ranked higher than Nashville’s, so that doesn’t even appear to be an advantage. In terms of first-round series prices, now that Demko is back, the Canucks are my favorite one for this round.

Pick: Canucks in 5

P2 Edmonton Oilers (-190) vs. P3 Los Angeles Kings (+160)

These two teams were only separated by five points during the regular season, as the Oilers finished with 104 and the Kings had 99. Connor McDavid wrapped up a strong regular season with 132 points and Leon Draisaitl had 106. No Kings player finished with more than 75 points, but a strong season from Cam Talbot and a sound defensive strategy propelled Los Angeles to a good year.

The thing about this year’s Oilers is that they finally got good goaltending and that explains the series price here. Edmonton was +40 in 5-v-5 goal differential and actually left some goals out there, as they scored 193, but had an expected total of 213. The Kings also left some goals out there with 165, but an expected total of 181.

LA was fifth in 5-v-5 goals against at 143 and finished +22 in goal differential. In a lot of ways, this series could come down to Talbot, who was seventh in GAA and T-10th in SV%, and Stuart Skinner, who was 25th in SV%, but 14th in GAA. The Oilers were +57 overall in goal diff and the Kings were +41. The other storyline here is a dangerous Oilers PP (26.3% – 4th) against a stellar Kings PK (84.6% – 2nd).

The star power edge unquestionably goes to the Oilers, but the Kings seem to be a more balanced bunch and may very well have the safer goaltending between the two teams. Zach Hyman scored 54 goals, so McDavid, Draisaitl, and Hyman combined for 127 of the team’s 294 goals. The Kings had five different players with at least 20 goals. Do they have enough firepower to overcome Edmonton’s stars? Will Talbot, who actually spent four seasons with the Oilers, keep up his current pace well enough to pull the upset?

I find this the toughest of the series to handicap because you’re paying a premium with the Oilers and their stars, but they deserve to be favored and should advance.

Pick: Oilers in 6