The 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us. While the Boston Bruins set all sorts of records during the regular season, their total in the win column is back to zero along with those of the 15 other clubs looking to win the sport’s ultimate prize. But the Bruins’ chase of the perfect capping of a record-breaking season is not the only storyline this spring:
We’ve got all the angles covered to get you ready for the playoffs as ESPN hockey reporters Ryan S. Clark and Kristen Shilton take a look at each of the 16 postseason teams, offering the reasons each team could win it all, along with the (potentially) biggest flaws, players to watch and a bold prediction for every contender.
Note: Profiles for the Atlantic and Metropolitan playoff brackets were written by Shilton, while Clark analyzed the Central and Pacific clubs. Also note that wild-card teams are listed according to the playoff bracket in which they’re playing (so the Seattle Kraken are in the Central, for instance).
Stats are collected from sites such as Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey.
Jump to a team:
Atlantic: BOS | TOR
TB | FLA
Metro: CAR | NJ
NYR | NYI
Central: COL | DAL
MIN | SEA
Pacific: VGK | EDM
LA | WPG
Record: 65-12-5, 135 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Boston produced a record-setting, history-making regular season that kept it atop the NHL standings — by a good margin — from start to finish. The Bruins have enviable depth scoring, a killer top-four rotation on the back end, excellent goaltenders (in both Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman) and the league’s most potent penalty kill.
Oh, and projected Jack Adams Award-winning coach Jim Montgomery has been pushing all the right buttons from behind the bench. Enough said.
Biggest flaws: The Bruins’ power play might be the closest thing to an Achilles’ heel. While Boston dominated in seemingly every other category, it finished with the NHL’s 11th-ranked man advantage, one that toggled from hot to cold in the second half of the regular season. Scoring is always at a premium come playoffs; those power-play chances will be critical.
And we’d be remiss not to mention the Presidents’ Trophy curse, of course. Teams that earn top billing through 82 games more often than not see their postseasons cut short. The Bruins are poised to seemingly defy those odds, though.
Player to watch: David Pastrnak. Every team inevitably needs a star in tightly contested postseason games. Boston is fortunate to have a 60-goal scorer — the franchise’s second ever — in Pastrnak, who plays like a man possessed to get the job done every night. The Bruins are a total package of elite elements and no one can trump Pastrnak as an effective threat in each phase of the game. He’d be hard to hold back for long in any series.
Bold prediction: The Bruins don’t win the Stanley Cup. Storming through the regular season with (relative) ease leaves Boston without enough killer instinct and it falls short against a more desperate opponent.
Record: 50-21-11, 111 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Toronto finally has all the tools in place. The Leafs fortified their depth scoring, stocked up on capable defensemen to play in front of an actual stud goaltender in Ilya Samsonov, and the team’s power play is one of the league’s best.
Top forwards Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Auston Matthews and John Tavares have made steady contributions all season and know — from years of experience — what it feels like to fall short. The added Cup-winning pedigree of a healthy Ryan O’Reilly should help in making the Leafs dangerous.
Biggest flaws: The Leafs have a viable No. 1 goalie in Samsonov. After that is where Toronto is exposed. Matt Murray is hurt, again. Joseph Woll executed well (4-1-0) in the regular season but has no NHL postseason credentials. If Samsonov struggles — or worse, gets injured — Toronto would have to rely on Woll to step in if Murray isn’t ready to go. That’s a potentially big ask of the young goalie, one the Leafs can only hope they don’t have to make.
Toronto’s other possible roadblock is mental. After six consecutive first-round exits, there’s never been more pressure on this team to win a series. GM Kyle Dubas is working on an expiring contract; his job could well be on the line. For years, Dubas has defended his vaunted core. Will the pressure be too much for this group to get over the hump once and for all?
Player to watch: Ilya Samsonov. It’s easy to point to the Leafs’ high-octane forwards and say they have to lead the way. That’s true. But Samsonov will be enormously important to Toronto’s success. Goaltending has derailed the Leafs so often in recent postseasons, and the uncertainty around Murray only amplifies Samsonov’s value. He could make or break the Leafs’ chances.
Bold prediction: Toronto sweeps Tampa Bay in the first round to advance in a postseason series for the first time since 2003-04.
Record: 46-30-6, 98 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Well, it’s Tampa Bay. The Lightning have been counted out before and proved their doubters wrong.
The most recent back-to-back Cup winners were top-10 in scoring this season and boasted a top-three power play that could be a major difference-maker. Andrei Vasilevskiy remains one of the NHL’s top goaltenders, Nikita Kucherov surpassed 100 points again this season and Brayden Point might have produced the stealthiest 50-goal showing ever.
All that is well and good but the bottom line: Tampa Bay knows how to win. When the stakes are highest, coach Jon Cooper can get the most of his roster. There truly is no substitute for that type of experience.
Biggest flaws: The Lightning uncharacteristically stumbled out of the regular season, losing eight of their final 12 games and being badly outscored by lesser competition. That Cooper had to send a message by benching some of his stars revealed some potential cracks in Tampa Bay’s armor.
The Lightning might be able to score, but they give up too much too, allowing over three goals and nearly 32 shots per game. Their overall team defense has lacked consistency and those bottom-six contributions the Lightning have leaned on in the past aren’t showing up as readily.
Is all that a sign Tampa Bay is finally too fatigued to go on another long run? It eventually happens to every repeat contender. And the Lightning have played a lot of hockey the past three years.
Player to watch: Victor Hedman. No skater has a larger collective impact on Tampa Bay’s success than its stalwart top defenseman. Hedman is the Lightning’s backbone, their muscle who can produce in every facet of the game. He’s a savvy veteran who, if needed, can will the club to a tight victory. There’s no question Hedman will give everything he has every shift and that it will power the Lightning to whatever end lies ahead.
Bold prediction: Tampa Bay’s scoring dries up early in postseason, and Vasilevskiy looks human for the first time in years. The Lightning can’t keep up with the Leafs and fall short of advancing past the first round for the first time in four years.
Record: 42-32-8, 92 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Florida could be this season’s playoff Cinderella story. For months, the Panthers looked ineffective racking up loss after loss, but GM Bill Zito didn’t add at the trade deadline. Zito said he believed in the team as it was. Florida responded in kind with a 12-4-2 record from March 3 until its penultimate regular-season game — and fourth consecutive playoff berth.
The Panthers have momentum. They have swagger and confidence that comes from having played with postseason-level urgency for weeks. Matthew Tkachuk has been MVP-worthy up front. Brandon Montour isn’t earning enough attention for the fabulous season he’s put together. Alex Lyon has been dominating in net since taking over from Sergei Bobrovsky. Florida fought its way back from the brink, and that’s what will make the Panthers dangerous in the playoffs.
Biggest flaws: The Panthers’ penalty kill has been a problem. They have the second worst PK (75.9%) in the playoff field, and that’s notable given how vital special teams opportunities — for and against — can be.
Florida was also one of the worst regular-season teams playing from behind, with only four wins to its credit when trailing after the first period. The Panthers will require more resiliency than that to go on a long run.
Player to watch: Alex Lyon. He has been Florida’s savior between the pipes. But will the 30-year-old be able to perform the same way come playoff time? Lyon had appeared in just 24 NHL games prior to replacing Bobrovsky as the Panthers’ No. 1 in late March. Florida can’t expect to outscore defensive or goaltending issues — the Panthers tried it last year as the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners; it didn’t go well — so Lyon being on point is a critical factor in their potential success.
Bold prediction: Florida bottles up Boston in the first round and sends the Bruins packing with a thrilling overtime victory to end the series.
Record: 52-21-9, 113 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Carolina is no one-trick pony. The Hurricanes can do it all, and do it all well — even without all the flash. That’s how Carolina emerged as one of the NHL’s stingiest defensive teams, ranking second in goals against per game and first in shots allowed per game to go with a second-ranked penalty kill.
The Hurricanes have a depth of talented scorers, headlined by Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas. Brent Burns has been a seamless fit on the blue line and elevates the club’s offensive and special teams attack in big ways. Carolina has proved time and again that it can win close games, be physical when necessary and wear opponents down with a suffocating neutral-zone presence. That’s the type of energy you need to compete come the postseason.
Biggest flaws: The Hurricanes’ Cup-winning odds took a hit when Andrei Svechnikov (23 goals and 55 points in 64 games) had season-ending ACL surgery last month. Carolina has had to adjust significantly since then, and its up-and-down results through March into April showed that. Losing any significant weapon is a blow, but Svechnikov’s absence did seem to rattle the Hurricanes.
Another issue is Carolina’s 20th-ranked power play. It got even worse as the season went on and eventually ranked in the league’s bottom three from early March onward. A few missed opportunities on special teams can seriously affect a club’s performance in a do-or-die postseason round.
Player to watch: Sebastian Aho. Carolina’s top goal scorer will have to bring it come playoffs — and he’s primed to deliver. Whether it’s Frederik Andersen or Antti Raanta in net, the Hurricanes have to provide more offensive support, and Aho has been their most consistent, electrifying threat. Timely goals will need to be his bread and butter.
Bold prediction: Carolina blows a multi-game lead in its first-round series and can’t find the offense to claw its way back. The Hurricanes bow out early despite outscoring their opponent overall through a seven-game grind.
Record: 52-22-8, 112 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: New Jersey has risen to surprisingly great heights this season thanks to a confluence of factors that should make the Devils serious contenders. They have been resilient through highs and lows, proved they can win when not at their best (as one of the best comeback teams in the NHL) and benefitted from the confidence that comes with that.
Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier lead a New Jersey offense that ranked top-10 in scoring, while a solid back end and excellent goaltending from Vitek Vanecek have helped the Devils give up fewer than three goals per game (also ranking them in the top 10).
And, there’s Timo Meier, who was added at the trade deadline and worked his way seamlessly (and productively) into the lineup.
New Jersey has waited years to not just return to the postseason but do so with such a promising roster of up-and-coming stars and strong veteran leadership. It’s all about good balance.
Biggest flaw: The Devils’ best and worst qualities are intrinsically tied together: Those top offensive players who make New Jersey so dangerous also have little to no experience in the NHL playoffs. That’s no small thing. The postseason game is harder, faster and heavier. There is, as they say, no space on the ice. It’s a tough learning curve, and the Devils will have zero wiggle room while figuring out playoff speed on the fly.
The sense of desperation and urgency required in one-goal games — whether holding a lead or trying to gain one — can’t be manufactured, and New Jersey will have to tap into those regular-season teachings when the going gets tough.
Player to watch: Vitek Vanecek. New Jersey felt it was a goalie away from having a sound roster. Vanecek has filled that void in a big way. When the Devils’ playoff run begins, it’ll be Vanecek going man-to-man against Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin at the other end of the ice. How well he can hold up and make the critical saves necessary will be exceptionally important in any success the Devils find early (and potentially later on) in the postseason.
Bold prediction: New Jersey stuns the competition by winning a wild first-round series in seven games and advancing all the way to the Eastern Conference finals on the back of unstoppable offensive performances from Hughes and Meier.
Record: 47-22-13, 107 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: New York didn’t load up at the trade deadline for nothing. There’s a genuine — and justifiable — belief that this group can go all the way. That’s why GM Chris Drury added Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane to the mix, both of whom have won Stanley Cups before.
Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider are also known threats coming off 30-plus-goal seasons, and Adam Fox is as good defensively as he is at chipping in points. And even in a “down” year, Igor Shesterkin remains among the NHL’s elite goaltenders, capable of outdueling anyone over a weeklong stretch. The Rangers collected just two regulation losses in the final month of their season for a reason: New York knows this is go-time, and it’s ready to show out.
Biggest flaw: One of the Rangers’ best assets in reaching last year’s Eastern Conference finals was the grittiness they showed in games with series victories on the line. That same level of physicality and consistency wasn’t displayed as frequently this season.
New York’s infusion of skill players (see above) can’t come at the expense of playing hard along the boards, winning puck battles and doing all the small things that become more significant in the playoffs. The Rangers were second overall this season in giveaways per 60 (9.94), and that stat could come back to haunt them when every inch of ice matters.
Player to watch: Artemi Panarin. New York’s top-line winger can be one of the team’s most electrifying scorers — and then, just as quickly, be mired in a slump. Panarin’s contributions are vital to any long run New York goes on, and a feast-or-famine output won’t help there. Look for the veteran to dial into what he does best and be a stable offensive contributor.
Bold prediction: New York gets below-average goaltending from Shesterkin and can’t make up the difference in a short-lived playoff run that doesn’t extend past April.
Record: 42-31-9, 93 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: New York wouldn’t be in the playoffs without Ilya Sorokin. And it’s the sensational Sorokin who will be the Islanders’ backbone in the postseason.
New York is methodical, with a hard-nosed defense that stacks up as well or better than most back ends in the league. That’s where the Islanders’ power lies. They’ll wear down an opponent, take away chances and smother attacks through the neutral zone. That can become frustrating fast — especially against teams reliant on high-scoring outcomes — and gives the Islanders an edge to exploit.
Biggest flaw: The Islanders’ offensive output is inconsistent and depth could be a real issue. New York averaged fewer than three goals per game, with the bulk of its total coming from just three players (Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Zach Parise, who each surpassed 20 goals). The postseason often calls for third- and fourth-line contributors to have an impact, something the Islanders haven’t seen enough of.
It’s also little wonder why New York’s power play was third worst in the league (15.8%). Hard to capitalize on chances without the required options. More skaters have to step up.
Player to watch: Bo Horvat. Yes, Sorokin has been the Islanders’ superstar this season. But Horvat is being paid like one and has to play like it from the puck drop in Game 1. At 28, he is in his prime, with a glorious chance to compete in the postseason that he wouldn’t have had prior to being traded from Vancouver. Horvat hasn’t been shy about expressing how good that feels. He’ll have to shine in a big way to help the Islanders overcome their regular-season scoring woes.
Bold prediction: Sorokin shockingly falls apart early on and the Islanders turn to Semyon Varlamov to take over, a change that ultimately sparks the team to a first-round upset.
Record: 51-24-7, 109 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: People keep saying it: Imagine what the Avs would look like if they were fully healthy. All the defending champions have done is win the Central Division while having one of the best records in the West — all in a season in which just four players have played in every game.
So if the Avs can do this while being on the mend, what are they capable of achieving in the playoffs? Especially if they can get everyone healthy?
Biggest flaws: Staying healthy. That statement can be applied to any team, but the Avalanche are a special case. The Avs’ current core knows all about injuries in the playoffs. Back in 2019-20, they went into Game 7 of a second-round series missing nine players who were out due to injuries.
This season has also provided its own set of issues. Gabriel Landeskog didn’t play this season, and will miss the playoffs as well. The Avs have also experienced what life is like without Bowen Byram, Artturi Lehkonen, Nathan MacKinnon, Josh Manson, Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar during various points of the season.
Player to watch: Alexandar Georgiev. This will be the third straight year in which the Avs enter the playoffs with a different No. 1 goaltender. Acquiring Georgiev gave the Avs someone they felt could be their top goalie for a number of seasons to come, and so far, he has been that for them. Now they are hoping Georgiev can transform his regular-season success into the sort of postseason results the defending champs could use in their bid for a consecutive title.
Bold prediction: J.T. Compher will be one of the Avalanche’s top three scorers during the playoffs.
Record: 47-21-14, 108 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Two items were evident after last season’s first-round exit. They were that Jake Oettinger is a nightmare to play against — and he’d be even more hellish if the Stars could score goals to support him.
A year later, Oettinger is still the thing of which nightmares are made, while the Stars were one of the more prolific offensive teams in the West. It’s possible those two factors could make the Stars a problem for any team that encounters them in the postseason.
Biggest flaw: Can the Stars carry their regular-season scoring success into the playoffs so they can lessen Oettinger’s burden? Let’s go back to last year’s first-round exit. Sure, it was the lack of goals. But it was also the fact that three of the Stars’ losses came in games in which they either scored one goal or were shut out.
And maybe the most bizarre part of all? They actually outscored the Calgary Flames — by one goal — in that series.
Player to watch: Max Domi. Even with their production, the concern for the Stars around the trade deadline was an overreliance on who scored. More than 66% of their goals came from six players before Domi arrived. Since then, the Stars have received more contributions, while Domi has accounted for two goals and seven points in 20 games.
Bold prediction: Roope Hintz, who has nine career playoff goals, will score more than 10 goals this postseason.
Record: 46-25-11, 103 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Losing your leading scorer for the final full month of the regular season is usually a blow for a team trying to snag a playoff spot. For the Wild, they overcame Kirill Kaprizov‘s absence, clinching a playoff spot by going 8-3-2 following his injury and making a push to win the Central Division title.
The time without Kaprizov showed the Wild can find scoring in other places while continuing to trust a goaltending tandem in Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson that has allowed them to remain a factor in every game.
Biggest flaw: Can they continue to score? In the time without Kaprizov, the Wild were averaging 3.71 goals per game, and that was good enough for eighth in the NHL over that period of time. Now it’s a matter of whether or not they can keep it going. Especially upon considering the Wild enter this year’s postseason as one of the two-lowest scoring teams in the field.
Player to watch: Matt Boldy. Everything he achieved in March further reinforced why the Wild believe they have another star forward in Boldy. He broke through to score 12 goals in what was arguably the most crucial month of the season to help the Wild eventually clinch a playoff spot. How Boldy performs in the postseason could play a role in determining how far the Wild advance this spring.
Bold prediction: The Wild will reach the Western Conference finals.
Record: 46-28-8, 100 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: No one individual talent is the reason the Kraken have gone from a lottery team to one that’s making the playoffs in the franchise’s second season. Their transformation has been a collective approach. One that saw them keep their trademark of being a physically demanding team with an aggressive forecheck.
It’s just that they now have quite a bit of scoring to go with that structure. They are a top-five team in goals scored, with 13 players who have scored more than 10 goals. Every skater who has played more than 45 games this season has at least 16 points.
Biggest flaw: Goaltending continues to be an issue. A year ago, the Kraken finished with the second-worst team save percentage in 5-on-5 play. This season has seen a slight improvement, as they now have the eighth-worst team save percentage in 5-on-5 play. Still, it’s the kind of statistic that creates questions about the Kraken’s postseason chances in an environment in which goaltending is even more crucial to a team’s aspirations.
Player to watch: Jared McCann. This season he notched the first 40-goal campaign in his career. McCann’s profile prior to joining the Kraken was that of a top-nine forward who could strengthen a middle six. Since then, he has turned into one of the more underrated scorers in the NHL with 66 goals in the past two seasons. He’s absolutely a breakout candidate this postseason.
Bold prediction: The Kraken get the goaltending and reach the second round.
Record: 51-22-9, 111 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: What allowed the Golden Knights to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence? They continually received contributions from every person in their lineup at some point this season.
They have 20 players with more than 10 points, 12 players with more than 10 goals, and have five goaltenders with at least two wins. Robin Lehner was lost before the season started, while Mark Stone was limited to 43 games; players stepped up in their places to get them to the top of the Western Conference.
The strength of the Knights has been their collective, and it could be the item that leads to them making a strong postseason run.
Biggest flaws: Both special teams. Much of the Golden Knights’ success this season has come in 5-on-5 play. Just look at all their underlying metrics in those sequences. What they have done on either the penalty kill or the power play is a different conversation altogether. On the surface, they have the No. 19 penalty kill, with a 77.6% success rate. And while their PK unit had the fewest minutes played this season, Natural Stat Trick’s metrics show the Knights were ninth in scoring chances allowed per 60, and 12th in goals allowed per 60.
Their power play is in a somewhat similar state, with a 20.3% success rate, which ranks 18th. Part of the issue is the Golden Knights averaged the lowest amount of time spent on the power play in the NHL, at 4:14 per contest. And while they are in the top 10 in shots per 60 and scoring chances per 60, it’s brought back a return that ranks 18th in goals per 60. Jonathan Marchessault led the team in power-play points, with 16. For context, that puts him No. 119 among NHL skaters.
Player to watch: Mark Stone. He was out of the lineup after having his second back surgery in less than a year. That led to the Golden Knights trading for Ivan Barbashev at the deadline to fill that void. But Stone started practicing April 10 in a noncontact sweater, and was a full participant in practice Saturday. Whenever Stone is inserted into the lineup, he’ll give the Golden Knights another top-six forward who can be trusted to play in every situation.
Bold prediction: Eichel, who has never played in the postseason, will lead the NHL in points after the first round.
Record: 50-23-9, 109 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Few teams have been as dangerous as the Oilers since the final week of trade season. Since March 1, they are 18-2-1, and have led the NHL in scoring while also allowing the eighth-fewest goals in that time — a promising sign for a team that has struggled with finding defensive consistency.
Then there’s that whole bit about having three 100-point scorers in Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, while having nearly 13 players on the roster who have scored 10 or more goals this season.
Biggest flaws: Can the Oilers harness their late-season defensive success throughout the playoffs? That’s been one of the most notable questions facing the Oilers. And so far, they are showing they could have everything needed to not only return to the Western Conference finals for a consecutive season, but possibly reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Player to watch: Connor McDavid. The best player on the planet just had the best season of his life and has shown little reason to believe that will not continue into the postseason.
Bold prediction: McDavid will join Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the only players to score more than 40 points in an individual postseason campaign … en route to winning the Conn Smythe as MVP of the playoffs.
Record: 47-25-10, 104 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Part of the narrative with the Kings was the hypothetical of: What could they be in the event they found consistent goaltending? Promoting Pheonix Copley while getting Joonas Korpisalo at the trade deadline has offered insight into why the Kings could be one of the more dangerous teams in the discussion.
They’re one of a number of teams that have received offensive contributions from everyone, and their underlying defensive metrics show they are in the top 10 in scoring chances allowed per 60, shots allowed per 60 and high-danger chances allowed per 60. And now they appear to have the goaltending to present themselves as one of the more complete options in the Western Conference.
Biggest flaw: Playoff experience among their goaltenders. The Kings will enter the postseason with two goaltenders who have a combined nine games of postseason play between them, with all of those games belonging to Korpisalo.
What the Kings are banking on is Korpisalo can perform like he did during the 2020 playoffs, when he was one of the major reasons the Columbus Blue Jackets had success. He shut out the Maple Leafs twice to win three games in the qualifying round, and despite losing three starts in the first round against the Lightning, Korpisalo played a significant role in why those defeats all came in one-goal games.
Player to watch: Joonas Korpisalo. Clearly, there is a theme with the Kings, and it is one that is centered around goaltending. What the Kings have seen from Korpisalo in the time they’ve had him is a goalie who can do his part to win games or keep them in games, as evidenced by the fact his first three losses were all in one-goal games.
Bold prediction: The Kings will win at least two playoff rounds.
Record: 46-33-3, 95 points
Case for a Stanley Cup run: Earlier this season, there was a point at which the Jets looked like they could have been the best team in the West. Since then, they’ve become a team that had to fight just to reach the playoffs.
What makes the Jets so mystifying is the same thing that could make them hard to assess in the postseason: The Jets have the sort of promise which might allow them to get beyond the first round. Or it could see them go home after a short stint in the first round, too.
Biggest flaw(s): Consistently scoring goals. They’re 16th in scoring chances per 60, 20th in shots per game and are in the bottom third in high-danger goals per 60. They also have a power play with a 19.3% success rate in the regular season, which ranked 23rd in the NHL and is also the lowest of any team that qualified for the playoffs. In other words, the Jets are the least dangerous offensive team going into the playoffs.
Player to watch: Connor Hellebuyck. Much can be said about the importance of having a Vezina Trophy winner like Hellebuyck. Yet the item that further underlines his contributions is the fact that the Jets played only three games since March 1 in which Hellebuyck was not the starting goaltender. And for a team that struggles to score like the Jets, it’s what makes Hellebuyck even more important to their cause.
Bold prediction: The Jets will win their first-round playoff series.