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Run for Stanley Cup is wide open

Bruce Penton looks at those who can, those who might and those who won't in the 2024 NHL playoffs
bruce penton sports

Now that the 1,312-game preliminaries are almost over, the 16 National Hockey League playoff teams get down to serious business. Last year’s Vegas-vs.-Florida final didn’t appear on many experts’ radars and the likelihood of more upsets is always real.

So who can win the Stanley Cup this year? All 16 qualifiers, of course, but realistically, some of the playoff teams would need a truckload of four-leaf clovers, a few rabbits’ feet or Mafia-style bribery to win it all.

There are three levels of contenders: Those who can; those who might; those who can’t.

Those who can (in no particular order): 

Boston Bruins: Didn’t miss a beat after the retirement of superstar centre Patrice Bergeron, and have been at the top, or close to it, all year. The President’s Cup jinx got to the B’s last year, so maybe they’ll play so-so down the stretch to avoid finishing first overall.

Florida Panthers: Neck-and-neck with Boston all season for first in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers are playoff-tested after last year’s run to the final.

N.Y. Rangers: Igor Shesterkin in goal and an offence led by Artemi Panarin provide the ingredients for a long run.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Canes have a solid defence with Brent Burns, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin and picked up solid playoff performer Jake Guentzel in a trade, adding to the scoring prowess of Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis and Andrei Svechnikov.

Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar can win games by themselves and make the Avs an always-dangerous team.

Dallas Stars: Solid in goal (Jake Oettinger) and up front with eight 20-plus goal scorers, the Stars have been battling Winnipeg and Colorado for top spot in the Central Division all year.

Vancouver Canucks: Coach-of-the-year candidate Rick Tocchet has guided the Canucks to one of their most successful seasons ever. No reason to think it’s going to stop any time soon.

Edmonton Oilers: After a horrendous 5-12 start to the season, the McDavid-Draisaitl-led Oilers have compiled one of the best records in the entire league.

Those who might:

Toronto Maple Leafs: The 1967-to-present day Cup drought probably won’t end this year, but goal-scoring machine Auston Matthews is in his prime, so there’s a chance.

Winnipeg Jets: Among the top teams all season, the Jets have Connor Hellebuyck, the best goalie in the league and the addition of Tyler Toffoli and Sean Monahan mesh nicely with the Jets’ core of Scheifele, Connor, Ehlers and Morrissey. 

Nashville Predators: Defenceman Roman Josi might be the best all-round player in the league and the Preds were red-hot down the stretch. Never ignore a team with a mountain of momentum. 

Tampa Bay — Playoff experience can never be underestimated.

Those who won’t:

Anyone battling it out down the stretch for a wildcard position — Detroit, Washington, Pittsburgh Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas.

(Keep in mind that this same pre-playoff column last year gave a no-chance outlook to Florida Panthers, who made it all the way to the final.)

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  • And comedy writer Alex Kaseberg on the same subject: “In addition to helmet-to-helmet and around the knees, it is now illegal for NFL players to make hip-drop tackles. At this rate the only option for NFL tacklers is to give ball carriers a stern talking to.”
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  • Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “In Texas, former NFL QB, Vince Young, was knocked out cold in a bar fight. Young was hit so hard, when he came to he said he wanted to make a comeback with the Washington Commanders.”
  • Super 70s Sports: “Tony Gwynn could’ve gone 0-for-1,199 at the end of his career and still retired as a .300 hitter. Think about that.”
  • Janice Hough of “The Oakland As are reportedly talking to Sacramento about relocating there for at least three years. But wait, doesn’t Sacramento already have a minor league team?”
  • Headline in The Beaverton, Canada’s parody website: “NHL player declared legally dead before trade deadline expects to be ready for playoffs.”
  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Step aside, Messi, Mahomes and LeBron, and make room for America’s biggest sports superstar — Caitlin Clark.”
  • RJ Currie of “NBA star Russell Westbrook admitted to lying about his wife’s birthday at a restaurant to score some free cake. Typical of today’s over-paid athlete: getting their unjust desserts.”
  • From, on ‘Signs You May be Addicted to Sports Betting’: “Every sports gambler has heard horror stories about someone who, at their lowest point, watched an entire baseball game from beginning to end.”
  • Another gambling addiction indicator, from “You Convinced The Gambling Addiction Hotline Operator To Put $20 On The Knicks”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.

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