2024 Playoffs – Round 1, Part 1 –

This year’s playoffs are just around the corner and HabsWorld writers have made their predictions for the first round series. This is the first part about all the games starting on April 20th.

Eastern Conference

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins

Brian La Rose predicts: Maple Leafs in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Maple Leafs in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Bruins in 5 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Bruins in 6 games

(Brian) Toronto exorcised a major demon last year by making it through the opening round, which might take some of the pressure off them this time around. I think a lack of top firepower will hurt Boston in the playoffs, offsetting their strong back end and goaltending tandem, a tandem that no one knows how they’re going to juggle. If Ilya Samsonov returns to his early season form, this pick won’t even be close, but I don’t think that will happen and he will be good enough to help the Leafs moving forward.

(Kevin) On paper, I think this is the year Toronto is well built to beat the Bruins. Boston has been more tolerant defensively, which is good news for the league’s top-scoring offense. The Bruins are more of a score by committee team outside of David Pastrnak, which could be good news for Toronto’s revamped blue line. Goaltending is the only question mark that remains. That, and their own psychological demons against the Bruins. As is usually the case in this game, the Leafs need to get this over with before the seventh game, where they simply can’t handle the Bruins mentally. As long as they can avoid Game 7 and beat themselves psychologically, I prefer the high-scoring team here.

(Norm) Auston Matthews was the NHL’s most skilled goal scorer, falling one goal short in a 70-goal season. Linemate William Nylander contributed 40 goals and 98 points. The Leafs team features a lethal offensive group, with defenseman Morgan Rielly leading the backend. Former Hab Joel Edmundson was traded to Toronto to gain some playoff experience and depth on the blueline.

Even though Toronto is the league’s cleanest scorer, I’m not confident this team has a chance of escaping the first round. The Bruins have a lethal sniper in Pastrnak, one who has a better track record in the playoffs. Up front, Toronto has a better set of forwards offensively, but Boston’s group can play a better two-way game. On defense and in goal, it is clear that the Bruins are superior in both categories. Behind the bench, Jim Montgomery is a much better head coach than Sheldon Keefe. There’s an old saying that “history tends to repeat itself,” and I can easily say that Boston’s dominance against Toronto in the last decade’s playoff series will repeat itself as well.

(Ears) What has changed in 2024 to really inspire belief in the Leafs’ ability to overcome the formidable Boston Bruins? Is it because Matthews no longer has to deal with perennial Selke Trophy stalwart Patrice Bergeron blocking his view? Will the Leafs defense finally muster the strength to stop Pavel Zacha, the aging Brad Marchand, or Pastrnak? Or will it be their ability to counter the exploits of Jeremy Swayman or Linus Ullmark? No… What the Leafs need more than offense, defense or goaltending is a “cause.” While we know the Bruins will fight for each other, it’s unclear if the Leafs can make the mental pivot necessary to secure their spot in the playoffs. Combined with an emotionally chaotic fan base and a horde of media quick to point fingers – Simpsons Nelson style – the Leafs could be charting an early ‘spring’, possibly spending their ‘field time’ on a golf course .

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders

Brian La Rose predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Hurricanes in 5 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
Oren Weizman predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games

(Brian) On paper this shouldn’t be particularly close. However, the Islanders tend to talk about their weight class in the playoffs, which is why Lou Lamoriello is stubbornly keeping his core group intact at all costs. It wasn’t easy for Carolina to get through last year and even though they are a better team this time around, I still don’t think it will be easy, so New York should get a few games before getting ousted.

(Kevin) It’s hard to imagine the Islanders offering much of a series to the team that leads the league in goal difference. The Canes come into the series with a much better offense and a much better defense, just a much better hockey team. If the Islanders have any chance at all, it’s between the pipes where both Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have the potential to steal a few games, if not the entire series. The Islanders have had some nice upsets in recent years, can they do it again? That is it. That’s the only thing I can think of in favor of the winner of the battle of mediocrity that took place at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

(Norm) Carolina had the third-best overall record in the league and trailed NHL leader New York Rangers by just three points. Team scoring leader Sebastian Aho remains the heartbeat of this team. Youngster Seth Jarvis had a career season in points. Trade deadline Jake Guentzel was cut in this lineup and scored 25 points in 17 games. He gives this team one of the best postseason scorers in recent memory, a facet of their game that has been inconsistent in recent years.

The Islanders have responded well to replacement head coach Patrick Roy. About halfway through their mediocre season with the team just outside the playoff picture, Roy took over for coach Lane Lambert. It took the players some time to respond to his style, but they came around and improved both defensively and offensively. To me, the Islanders will give the Hurricanes some problems in this series, but Carolina will move on.

(Ears) Is Patrick Roy’s sheer energy and visceral candor enough to inspire a burst of confidence in his players, enough to carry the Islanders through a seven-game playoff battle against the poised and well-oiled Canes? Doubtful. For the Canes, it all depends on their ability to stay healthy and effective. While they can dominate teams when firing on all cylinders, injuries to key players can test their depth. Rumor has it that their top six will enter the playoffs with several injuries!