Everything you need to know about the 2023–24 NHL Playoffs | The GIST

    ⚙️ How it works

    The Stanley Cup Playoffs feature 16 of the league’s 32 teams — eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference.

    • Within each conference, the top three teams in each division (Atlantic and Metropolitan in the East, Central and Pacific in the West) as well as the two next-best teams in each conference (the Wild Cards) make the playoffs.

    Each of the four playoff rounds is a best-of-seven-game series. In each conference’s first round, the second wild card team (with the worst record) takes on the division winner with the best record, while the first wild card team (with the better record) faces the conference’s other division winner. The remaining two series pair the No. 2 and No. 3 teams from the same divisions.

    • For example, the New York Rangers won the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference, while the Florida Panthers won the Atlantic Division.
    • Since the Rangers had the better record, they’ll face the Washington Capitals while the Panthers take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    And all teams are playing for one thing: the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. No guts, no glory.

    🏆 The top teams

    Source: Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

    New York Rangers (Metropolitan): The Rangers — led by offensive powerhouse Artemi Panarin and goaltender Igor Shesterkin — represented the concrete jungle well this season, earning the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best regular-season record.

    • You’d think this would bode well for the squad heading into the postseason, but not so fast: only eight of the 36 former Presidents’ Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. *gulps*

    Florida Panthers (Atlantic): After a surprise Stanley Cup Final appearance last year, the Panthers continued to cruise this season, winning the highly competitive Atlantic Division. Flashy star forwards Sam Reinhart and Matthew Tkachuk (pronounced kuh-CHUCK) showed out all season and will be looking to bring the same energy into the playoffs.

    Carolina Hurricanes (Metropolitan): The storm is certainly surging. With the offensive prowess of Sebastian Aho (who’s especially strong against their first-round opponent NY Islanders) and the trade-deadline addition of Jake Guentzel, these bunch of jerks could bring home their second franchise Cup.

    Dallas Stars (Central): The Stars were the best of the west, winning their division and conference to snag a coveted No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Led by the sparkling play of two standouts, 80-point-scoring left winger Jason Robertson and lockdown ’tendy Jake “the Otter” Oettinger, Texas hockey is as hot as ever.

    🤝 The contenders

    Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Edmonton Oilers (Pacific): Fearless leader and team captain Connor McDavid has long been a generational talent on a mediocre team, but after Edmonton’s shaky start to the season, the tides could finally be turning in Oil Country who are making their fifth-straight postseason appearance.

    Boston Bruins (Atlantic): You can never count out the Bruins. One year removed from winning the Presidents’ Trophy, this team is well-balanced with elite scorers, shutdown d-men, and strong goaltenders. Look for captain Brad Marchand to make his pesky presence known, especially against the first-round rival Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Vancouver Canucks (Pacific): The Canucks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2020, and as division champs no less. Led by top-scorer J.T. Miller and backstopped by Thatcher Demko — who’s having both a bounce back and breakout season — this team surprisingly has the pieces to make playoff waves.

    Colorado Avalanche (Central): While the Avs aren’t lacking in offensive firepower — they led the league in goals per game — a deep playoff run likely hinges on goaltender Alexandar Georgiev’s consistency after a streaky season. And that’s not to mention the 7–0 whipping Colorado recently endured against their first-round opponent, the Winnipeg Jets.

    🐎 The dark horses

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    Winnipeg Jets (Central): It was an up-and-down season for the Jets who struggled with streaky performances, locker room culture, and off-ice drama. Somehow, they kept their cool to secure second place in the Central. The question is: are they ready to whiteout the competition?

    Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic): Holding the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history, the Leafs are desperate to win it all for the first time since 1967. The rivalry runs deep with Toronto and first-round foe Boston, having played each other 16 times in the playoffs, each winning eight series.

    • Toronto has proven they can score, but they’ll need a show-stopping performance in net to truly be considered a postseason threat.

    Vegas Golden Knights (Pacific): It might feel odd to list the defending Stanley Cup champions as a “dark horse,” but that’s the reality for the Golden Knights after their fellow Pacific Division squads, the Oilers and Canucks, leveled up their play this season.

    👀 Players to watch

    Source: Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

    The four superstar forwards leading the way in the Hart Trophy conversation, awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player, are also all in the playoffs.

    Auston Matthews, center, Toronto: Matthews scored a mind-numbing 69 goals this season, the most since Mario Lemieux potted the same in 1995–96. But it’ll all be for naught if he can’t power his squad past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in over two decades.

    Connor McDavid, center, Edmonton: He’s ridiculously fast, his hands are quicker than a hiccup, and he’s topped the scoring charts again this year, finishing third in the league with 132 points (one point is awarded for each goal and assist). He’s also just the fourth player (!!!) in NHL history to notch 100 or more assists in a season.

    • Despite earning almost every individual accolade in his nine NHL seasons, McDavid has yet to compete in a Stanley Cup Final. Nothing like playing with a chip on your shoulder.

    Nikita Kucherov, winger, Tampa Bay: While his time in the playoffs could be fleeting (his Lightning have the 12th longest odds of hoisting the Cup), Kucherov is one of the most dangerous offensive playmakers in the game having also notched 100 assists this season. And he knows a thing or two about winning with two Cup titles already under his belt.

    Nathan MacKinnon, center, Colorado: The cornerstone of this season’s highest-scoring team, MacKinnon’s consistency is his greatest asset. Having tasted victory in 2022, the star center will be a driving force behind bringing the Avs back to the Cup finals, and he always seems to find another gear come playoffs.

    📺 How to tune in

    Source: Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

    There will be near-daily playoff hockey over the next month and a half, leading to the start of the Stanley Cup Final in early June. The journey begins with the puck dropping on four series tonight before the other four get underway tomorrow.

    • If you’re in the States, you can flip between ESPN and TNT. And in Canada, catch the action on Sportsnet or CBC.

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