Stanley Cup Playoffs: Staff predictions for conference finals

NHL: Dallas Stars at Edmonton Oilers
Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL is down to its Final Four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and soon enough we will know which two teams will play for the Cup.

For the second straight season, the Florida Panthers will play in the Eastern Conference Final. After sweeoing the Carolina Hurricanes in 2023, they will face off with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers this season.

In the Western Conference Final, the Dallas Stars, the top team in the West and just one point behind the Rangers overall, will skate against the Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who needed a 3-2 win in Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks to reach the conference final for the second time in three years.

Related: Surprising X-factor for Oilers against Stars in West Final

Eastern Conference Final predictions in Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s how our NHL staff sees the best-of-7 between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers playing out.

Jim Cerny, managing editor NHL: Let’s start with the obvious, this should be a great series played between two elite teams, that are each loaded with skill, will and intriguing intangibles. Though each excels on special teams, the Rangers very well could win this series with their monster power play if the Panthers parade to the penalty box, as they often do. Florida averaged 13:36 per game in penalty minutes, tops in the League in the regular season, and are at 15:32 in the playoffs, second most. Yet they’ve drawn four more penalties than they’ve taken, so the Rangers PK will be key here, as well. I love that we have two of the best two-way centers in the game in this series — Mika Zibanejad and Sasha Barkov — and Vincent Trocheck is playing at that top level too. Matthew Tkachuk can be a game-wrecker in so many ways for the Panthers, and Sam Bennett and Co. are pains in the butt to play seven games against. But the Rangers are as deep and healthy, especially with Filip Chytil back in the lineup. If Sam Reinhart or Artemi Panarin get super hot, that could swing a close series one way or the other. And it’s hard to bet against Igor Shesterkin in any goalie matchup, even against Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. I’m not breaking any news here by saying either team can win this series (or the Stanley Cup for that matter), but I’ve got to choose one or the other. Rangers in 7

Ryan Gagne, staff writer: The Rangers are once again in the Eastern Conference Final, the most recent Presidents’ Trophy winner to play in the final four since the Rangers in 2014-15. Although the Hurricanes gave them a bit of a scare by extending their second-round series to six games, the Rangers showed they are a resilient bunch with star players coming up big at critical moments. Now, their hands will be full with the rugged and feisty Panthers that is only four wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in 12 months. Ultimately, this series will come down to goaltending, with Igor Shesterkin going head-to-head with his Russian counterpart Sergei Bobrovsky. Both netminders are aware of the stakes of playing in the final four, so whoever wins the fourth game will be the one who made the saves in crucial moments. Considering how deep these two lineups are, New York will win the series behind Shesterkin and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 10 seasons. Rangers in 6 

Dane Walsh, staff writer: This is going to be perhaps the best series of the playoffs. The Presidents Trophy and Metropolitan Division winners against the best team from the Atlantic Division and Stanley Cup runner-up just one season ago. I think on paper, these teams are so incredibly close, but Florida has the slight edge. Their depth is what has made them so strong, and I think their bottom six tops that of the Rangers. That being said, New York just has something about them this season that make me believe it is their year. They have the feeling of a magical run. With the home-ice advantage, and if Shesterkin can steal a game on the road, I think the Rangers narrowly win a great series. Rangers in 7

Western Conference Final predictions in Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Dallas Stars
Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s how our NHL staff predicts what will happen in the West, when the Dallas Stars play the Edmonton Oilers.

Gagne: As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I’ve picked against the Oilers in the first two rounds, and they have burned me each time. Now, to use another famous quote, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Since the start of the playoffs, the Stars have been my pick to win the Stanley Cup, and so far, they remain on track to finish the story. However, they have yet to face a team like the Oilers, who continue to defy the odds and win games with subpar goaltending and a lineup that rallies on two superstars to generate most of their offense. Despite 113 points as the top team in the Western Conference, the Stars have been one of this season’s true underdogs and least talked-about Stanley Cup contenders. With one of the most balanced lineups in the League, they are solid from top to bottom and will have the definitive edge in the crease. Even though Dallas won the season series 2-0-1, it’s clear those statistics don’t matter anymore, as the Oilers just proved against the formidable Canucks. No one is giving Edmonton a chance in this series, but with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl just four wins away from their first Stanley Cup Final appearance, it is their time. Oilers in 6

Cerny: Well, Dane, I’m 2-for-2 picking the Oilers so far. But I’m also 2-for-2 picking the Stars. So, something’s got to give, right? It’s really hard to go against McDavid and Draisaitl, who failed to reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2022 when the Oilers were eliminated in the West Final by the Avalanche. And Edmonton’s special teams have been unreal in the postseason, tops both on the power play and penalty kill. And what about Evan Bouchard, what an amazing playoff run he’s on? And Zach Hyman with 11 goals? Yup, I could talk myself into picking the Oilers again, except I won’t. The Stars are the better all-around team, built to win in the playoffs. Plus, they might have a significant edge in goaltending with Jake Oettinger. Stars in 6

Walsh: I think this also sets up to be a great battle. I think that the Stars, overall, have been solid. They have a distinct advantage in goaltending with Jake Oettinger, who is going to have to have a great series if Dallas wants any chance. In the end, I think the Oilers high-end talent outscores the Stars deep lineup. McDavid and Draisaitl finally get over the hump and get their team to the Stanley Cup Final. Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner, while not on the level of Oettinger, has found his game after being benched. If he can put together a series with a .900+ save percentage, I think the Oilers get it done. Oilers in 7

Mentioned in this article:

More About: