NHL 2024 playoff predictions: will the Rangers end the Presidents’ Trophy curse?

<span>The <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:New York Rangers;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">New York Rangers</a> had a great regular season but the playoffs are a different beast. </span><span>Photograph: Bill Kostroun/AP</span>

Will the Presidents’ Trophy curse be lifted?

In clinching the Presidents’ Trophy – awarded to the team with the best regular season record – the New York Rangers now hope to break the curse that purportedly jinxes its holders to playoff failure. It’s been a decade since a Presidents’ Trophy-winning team, the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, went on to win that year’s Stanley Cup. Are the Rangers that kind of team?

The Rangers have five players – Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck, and Adam Fox – with more than 60 points this season. They score a lot on the power play (26.4%) and are effective on the kill (84.5%). They’re good in the faceoff circle (52.3%) and very good in overtime (win percentage: .750). They’ll even beat you when you’ve got them beat – New York had 28 comeback wins this year, the most in the league. But New York can also be messy. Early in 2024, the Rangers looked like they’d lost their touch, dropping seven of 10 games through January, including to teams such as San Jose and Montreal, before finally hitting a winning streak again. Another point of interest: New York’s goal differential in five-on-five situations for the season was just, uh … one. The Rangers are not scared to cause a ruckus, and they may have to rely on power play goals to get them through. A likely showdown with the formidable Carolina Hurricanes may await the Rangers in the second round – that is, unless they crash out in an upset to the Washington Capitals (who they lost to twice this season). The curse won’t be easy to break.

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Most likely to emerge from the West

Teams such as Colorado, Vancouver, and Edmonton have had more attention this year, but the Dallas Stars are the true final boss in the West. The Stars had eight forwards with 20 or more goals, and two with 30 or more this season, the kind of depth that most teams – especially those who technically score more, thanks to one or two key players (see: the Leafs) – can only dream of. Combined with solid goaltending from Jake Oettinger (.904 save percentage), the fifth-best power play in the league, and the third-best goals-for-per-game (trailing only Edmonton and Toronto), the Stars are a serious contender. Dallas start where they left off last postseason, against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. Barring a repeat, the Stars would then face either Winnipeg or Colorado – neither of which would be easy – to get to the West final. But all things considered, Dallas are poised to go deep.

Canada’s best chance

Back in October, the Edmonton Oilers looked awful. They won only two games through the first month of the season. Their once-great power play was going nowhere. Their goaltending was abysmal. And superstar captain Connor McDavid was on a multi-game scoring drought. But a coaching change in November proved to be a turning point. The Oilers went on a historic 16-game winning streak between the end of December and the beginning of February. As the season wound down, the Oilers beat both the Avalanche and Golden Knights, but only after a dressing-down from Dallas – a 5-0 loss that seemed to expose some of Edmonton’s lingering weaknesses, including ineffective power plays and multiple turnovers. Still, the Oilers, who will face LA in the first round, are experienced and motivated. The Oilers were a pre-season Cup favourite – and may still be.

As for the other three Canadian teams, the perpetually woebegone Leafs are stuck in a special kind of hockey hell where their choice of first-round playoff opponents is always either Florida men or, like this year, guys from Boston. Chances of success are a solid maybe. Vancouver’s surprising success this year was driven by good defence (except on the penalty kill) and consistent scoring (almost always from in close). But they don’t shoot very often, ranking only 26th overall in the league. If opponents can force the Canucks to take penalties and keep them away from the net, Vancouver may struggle. Meanwhile, the Jets are storming into the postseason on an eight-game winning streak, looking strong. It’s very difficult to score on Winnipeg – they allowed the fewest goals of any team this season (196), but struggled to maintain discipline on the penalty kill. And the Jets power play was anaemic, effective less than 20% of the time.

Most likely to upset

The Nashville Predators came online in the second half of the season, posting an eight-game winning streak through February and a six-game streak in March. Middle of the pack in special teams, the Preds can still rely on Juuse Saros between the pipes, and the trade deadline additions of Gustav Nyquist and Jason Zucker have added depth. They may go down, but it probably won’t be easy.

Elsewhere, the Washington Capitals squeezed into the playoffs only to find themselves facing the Rangers. Can the Capitals make some magic happen? Anything’s possible, but aspects of the Caps’ game, including their significant negative goal differential, suggests otherwise. As for the New York Islanders, a strong season finish, including one win and one shoot-out loss to the Rangers in April, will give them hope. The plucky Islanders have turned a corner of late, but may be undone by how many goals they allow, despite a good goaltending pair. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings are, like the Jets, tough to score on, allowing only 206 goals against this season (3rd best overall). They also boast the second-best penalty kill in the NHL. LA could annoy the Oilers a lot (again) in the first round.

Western Conference final

It looks like a Dallas v Edmonton matchup could be in the works, reviving a classic rivalry.

Eastern Conference final

An Original Six matchup between New York and Boston would be great, but it’s more likely the Hurricanes will face the Florida Panthers.

Stanley Cup final

The Dallas Stars win in five games against the Hurricanes to clinch their second championsip. The NHL playoffs are notoriously unpredictable, but on balance, the Stars look like the most complete team heading into the postseason. Their depth, their size, and their hunger after being so close so many times recently could all combine into the right championship mix.