NHL second-round predictions: Avalanche vs. Stars, Bruins vs. Panthers, conference champions and more

The second round is already underway, with the New York Rangers taking a 1-0 lead Sunday over the Carolina Hurricanes — hours before the first round ended with the Dallas Stars’ Game 7 victory over the defending-champion Vegas Golden Knights.BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 6: Charlie Coyle #13 of the Boston Bruins faces off against Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers at the TD Garden on April 6, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

On Monday, we get the first game of Boston Bruins–Florida Panthers, followed by Colorado Avalanche-Stars opening Tuesday and Edmonton Oilers–Vancouver Canucks opening Wednesday.

What do we expect? What have we learned so far? Who will be left standing for the conference finals?

The Athletic surveyed its NHL staff to get their answers to these questions. We asked for a winner for each second-round series, plus updated picks to win the Eastern and Western Conferences, the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe.

Polling for the Hurricanes-Rangers series was conducted before the Game 1 win to make sure we weren’t swayed by the result.

Here are the full results of our survey. To analyze and critique the picks, we’ve brought in national writers Sean Gentille and Hailey Salvian and analytics know-it-all Shayna Goldman.

Second-round series predictions

Atlantic Division: Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers

Percent of vote Bruins Panthers
4 games 0.0% 0.0%
5 games 0.0% 34.4%
6 games 0.0% 59.4%
7 games 0.0% 6.3%
Total 0.0% 100.0%

Goldman: I guess almost blowing a 3-1 lead in Round 1 for the second straight year can knock down some confidence around a team. Honestly, though, this feels like it’s less about Boston and more about how dominant Florida has been all season on both ends of the ice.

Salvian: The Bruins won all four regular-season meetings against the Panthers this season but clearly come in as the underdogs in this series. Jeremy Swayman can win the Bruins a few games in Round 2, but if they can’t get more offense going against a deep Panthers team than they did against the Maple Leafs, they aren’t going to be moving on. I’m hoping this one goes the distance, though. Who doesn’t love a revenge storyline?

Metropolitan Division: Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers

Note: Voting was conducted before the Rangers took a 1-0 series lead on Sunday.

Percent of vote Hurricanes Rangers
4 games 0.0% 0.0%
5 games 0.0% 0.0%
6 games 34.4% 15.6%
7 games 21.9% 28.1%
Total 56.3% 43.8%

Gentille: This feels about right. I’ve always liked the idea of Carolina winning a long series here, and Sunday’s result didn’t change that.

Salvian: This series feels like a toss-up for me, and the split of the vote would show our colleagues, somewhat, agree. I picked the Hurricanes in seven because this is the deepest they’ve been in this current window of contention. But the Rangers showed in Game 1 they can make this series a battle, and if Igor Shesterkin can outplay Freddie Andersen, this should be a good series.

Goldman: Something about the series length feels right based on everyone’s votes, too. If the Rangers are going to do it, Game 7 on home ice makes sense versus the Canes closing it out at home in six.

Central Division: Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars

Percent of vote Avalanche Stars
4 games 0.0% 0.0%
5 games 0.0% 0.0%
6 games 21.9% 6.3%
7 games 18.8% 53.1%
Total 40.6% 59.4%

Gentille: You’d think more folks would be anticipating a hangover for the Stars. Their series against the Golden Knights was epic, and they’re not going to get much time to recover.

Salvian: I hate that this isn’t the conference final. I’m not ready to say goodbye to the Avs or the Stars. The West is unforgiving this year. I just hope everyone has fun.

Goldman: The most important thing about this series is that we all expect it to go long. Round 2 is already shaping up to be more exciting than the first.

Pacific Division: Vancouver Canucks vs. Edmonton Oilers

Percent of vote Canucks Oilers
4 games 0.0% 9.4%
5 games 0.0% 34.4%
6 games 0.0% 46.9%
7 games 6.3% 3.1%
Total 6.3% 93.8%

Goldman: This voting feels a little lopsided for a series that could be legitimately interesting — but it’s also hard to see how a Thatcher Demko-less Canucks stop Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as good as Arturs Silovs was in Round 1.

Salvian: Six percent seems low to me. Silovs showed he could get the Canucks to the second round, but the Oilers offense is going to be a different kind of test for a goalie with 12 games of NHL experience (nine regular season, three playoffs).

Beyond the second round

Eastern Conference champion

Goldman: More confidence in the Panthers after dispatching the Lightning with ease? Check. Feeling the same about the Rangers after a Round 1 series against the Capitals? Check. A little surprising to see Carolina trend down here, but maybe that changes when there is confirmation on a Brett Pesce return.

Salvian: As a creature of habit, I continue to pick the Hurricanes. I am disappointed in the colleagues who jumped on another bandwagon. Have some integrity!

Western Conference champion

Goldman: Yee haw. Dallas did not have it easy in Round 1. It was super unlucky that a Round 3-caliber opponent fell into their lap to open up the playoffs. But the Stars were that impressive after rebounding from an 0-2 deficit on home ice. That can definitely instill some confidence into a deep run.

Gentille: The Avs staying put is kind of funny. I feel better about them now than I did a couple of weeks ago, given that Alexandar Georgiev kept it together and their depth guys showed up.

Salvian: On the Oilers’ side of things, they handled the Kings in five games, McDavid has a league-high 12 points, Draisaitl is tied for second with 10 and Zach Hyman is tied for the league lead with seven goals. I could really see it being any of the Oilers, Stars or Avalanche, but I am not ditching my Stars preseason Cup pick. Sorry!

Stanley Cup champion

Goldman: I feel like these answers are a little more evenly distributed because there’s one big question looming: Will whoever gets through the gauntlet that is the West have enough oomph to go all the way? That gives teams like Florida a better shot and could be why more of us got behind them.

Gentille: These percentages should be largely unchanged. You can’t change your Cup pick because they won their first-round series in five games instead of four. You shouldn’t be able to change it at all, actually.

Conn Smythe winner

Gentille: Matthew Tkachuk getting the goose-egg treatment at the start of the playoffs was a surprise. Then he went out and had nine points in five games. That’ll get you some votes. Jake Oettinger versus Wyatt Johnston might end up as a nice little subplot if Dallas keeps this going.

Salvian: McDavid only getting 3 percent of the vote heading into playoffs is hilarious, but considering only 3 percent said Edmonton could win, that checks out. If you think the Oilers are going to win the Cup, McDavid is going to be the guy.

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