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It’s that time of year again when play on the NHL ice heats up, and every hit, every save and every goal means so much more. 

This Saturday marks the start of 16 teams vying for the ultimate honor of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, and it’s always a grueling process after an 82-game regular season. 

And as the Stanley Cup Playoffs teach us every season, anyone that makes the playoffs has a chance to get hot and make a run to the Finals. Just take the Florida Panthers, the current No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference this year, taking down the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in the first round last season before making it all the way to the Final. 


Alex Pietrangelo #7 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates with the Stanley Cup after a 9-3 victory against the Florida Panthers in Game Five of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on June 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Panthers would eventually lose to the Vegas Golden Knights, but it’s a new year and a new chance to be named Stanley Cup champions. 

But among the 16 teams, which ones have the best chances to win it all? When all three phases of the game need to click on all cylinders, four teams stand out in particular. 

First, let’s take a look at two dark horse candidates that could surprise some in these playoffs. 


It’s hard to have any dark horses given the rosters we’re about to see on the ice, but the Avalanche are the toughest one to put in this category. 


First, they have the championship pedigree, having hoisted the Stanley Cup two seasons ago. And players like Nathan McKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Devon Toews and the list goes on, makes the Avalanche a true contender out of the west. 

The only question mark, though, is goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Yes, that’s a stretch, but his goals against average was 3.02 this season, which is 34th in the NHL and his save percentage of .897, the worst mark of his career and tied-39th in the league. 

Nathan McKinnon and Alexandar George

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan McKinnon (29) congratulates goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) after the team’s 5-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Denver.  (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

This is nit picking, but goaltending separates the good teams from the great. 

The Jets don’t have that problem whatsoever, as Connor Hellebuyck is the frontrunner to win the Vezina Trophy for best goalie this year. He owns a .921 save percentage for the year and a 2.39 goals against average. Even when a team can’t get things going on offense, having a great goalie always keeps them in the series. 

The Jets are hot, winning their last seven games, but they haven’t made the conference finals since 2017-18, losing in the first round last year and not making it past there just once since then. 

4. Florida Panthers

The reigning East champions are no longer the Cinderella No. 8 seed this season. They won the Atlantic division with 110 points (52-24-6) and a plus-68 goal differential – the best in the conference. 

When Matthew Tkachuk is on your second line, you likely have a strong offensive game. Right wing Sam Reinhart finished second in the league in goals this season with 57, and his 94 points leads the Panthers as he works well with Alexsander Barkov and Vladimir Tarasenko, who was traded for mid-season. 

Matthew Tkachuk after game 2 goal

Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers celebrates with Sam Reinhart #13 after scoring the game winning goal on Antti Raanta #32 of the Carolina Hurricanes during overtime in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 20, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

And of course, the Carter Verhaeghe line with Tkachuk and Sam Bennett is lethal on both ends of the ice, constantly bringing energy and peskiness on the forecheck. Finally, the goaltending tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz is what a Cup-winning team needs. 

The roles are reversed this time for the Panthers, who will take on the always-tough Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. 

3. Carolina Hurricanes

Rod Brind’Amour’s team finally made it past the second round last year, but the Panthers took care of them in the Eastern Conference Finals. Once again, though, the Hurricanes are a well-oiled machine that is itching to get their licks in the Stanley Cup Final. 

Sebastian Aho has been stellar for this group with 89 points (36 goals, 53 assists), and the addition of Jake Guentzel has added solid wing presence that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. 


Andrei Svechnikov shoots puck

Andrei Svechnikov #37 of the Carolina Hurricanes shoots the puck during the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at PNC Arena on March 11, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)

But the Hurricanes are truly rock solid on the back end, with Brady Skjei, Brent Burns, Jaccob Slavin, and Dmitry Orlov. All of these veterans playing at the top of their game will be very hard for offenses to find rhythm on the forecheck. And, of course, Pyotr Kochetkov’s 2.33 goals against average was second in the league this season. 

Carolina is also the second-best power play team in the league this season, and making the best of odd-man situations is a game changer in the playoffs. The New York Islanders will be their first-round opponent starting Saturday. 

2. Dallas Stars

The best team in the West this season is simply a unit. 

Jason Robertson, the team’s star left winger, leads the team in points with 80 (29 goals, 51 assists), which is only tied-27th in the league this season. But the Stars have a plus-64 goal differential, as they’ve gotten contributions from virtually everyone in the goal department. 

Wyatt Johnston is the leader with 32, while Roope Hintz (30), Joe Paveleski (27), Matt Duchene (25), Jamie Benn (21) and Tyler Seguin (25) have all had offensive success. 

Joe Pavelski skates

Joe Pavelski #16 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Seattle Kraken in Game Seven of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 15, 2023, in Dallas, Texas (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

This is a team that knows what it takes to make a run, and they’re hungry after losing in the conference finals last season. There’s also players on this squad like Benn and Seguin who still feel the sting of the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Final loss as well. 

With Jake Oettinger playing well in net, the Stars get a favorable matchup against the Los Angeles Kings to start off their playoffs. 

1. New York Rangers

I know, how cliché to choose the President’s Trophy winners for the regular season, especially after what we saw with the Boston Bruins last season. 

But everything is clicking at the perfect time for this Rangers squad that is loaded from top to bottom. 

First, Igor Shesterkin has been a different animal since the All-Star break, showcasing those highlight-reel saves like the one he had against Islanders star Mat Barzal a few nights ago, while being a brick wall in his crease. 

Igor Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers warms up prior to Game One of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on April 18, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey.   (Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images)

Then, there’s Artemi Panarin, the fourth-best in points this season with 120 (49 goals, 71 assists) and he’s been feasting on the league’s third-best power play unit. He had a career-high 11 goals and 33 assists for 44 power-play points this season, and the Rangers’ tough forecheck draws penalties. 

Panarin is just one cog in Peter Laviolette’s machine, as Vincent Trocheck and veteran captain Chris Kreider racked up 77 and 75 points respectively. Mika Zibanejad had 72 points, while star defenseman Adam Fox thrived on the power play as well, finishing with 56 assists and 73 points. 

Players from multiple teams playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off this weekend, and four teams have the upper hand heading into the win-or-go-home series. (Getty Images)


With relentless forwards and a stellar defensive corps of Fox, K’Andre Miller, Jacob Trouba, Erik Gustafsson, and the possible addition of brawler Matt Rempe to add some enforcing to the likes of Tom Wilson and the Washington Capitals in the first round gives New York a chance to make the run they haven’t since 2013-14 when they lost in the finals. 

It’s been exactly 30 years since the team’s last Stanley Cup championship, too. Could fate be on the side of the Blueshirts? 

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