Pursuit of the Stanley Cup

Hockey fans buckle up and get ready for two months of heart-pounding momentum momentum-swinging playoff hockey!

With the regular season 82-game schedule behind us, now is the time for fans from all around the globe to organize their playoff pools and proudly support their beloved teams. The gruelling marathon began on Saturday, April 20, for what has often been referred to as the greatest trophy in sports, the Stanley Cup.

The Stanley Cup, which has also been referred to as the hardest trophy to win, is awarded, as every hockey fan knows, upon the team that triumphs in all four of their best-of-seven series, totalling 16 victories. Playoff hockey tests a player’s endurance, hunger, and sacrifice. It means not thinking twice about bravely blocking 100-mile-per-hour slap shots and taking those painful hits to make the play. 

During this two-month marathon, it’s not uncommon for players to endure such unpleasantries as getting speared, suffering sprains, broken bones or even getting their bell rung, which are just some of the sacrifices players make during their quest to fulfil that childhood dream of being a Stanley Cup champion.  

Throughout the years, playoff legends were born. One of the biggest was Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bobby Baun who in 1964 cemented his name in playoff glory by showing ultimate toughness and sacrifice by scoring the 1964 overtime Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings.

Another story of playoff bravery which still gets talked about today occurred in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals when Anaheim Mighty Ducks forward Paul Kariya had his bell rung following a devasting hit from New Jersey Devils defenceman Scott Stevens. Kariya, who was shaken up and taken off the ice would later return and score a huge goal in a 5-2 win, forcing a deciding Game 7 which the Devils ultimately won.

Every spring it seems like hockey fans are treated to thrilling pulse-racing overtime games which last into the wee hours of the morning. History is full of these overtime heroes, such as Colorado Avalanche defenceman Uwe Krupp. On June 10, 1996, Krupp scored the Cup-winning goal in the third overtime period against the Florida Panthers.

Another of the many historic overtime memories is the Eastern Epic. On April 18-19, 1987, in a Patrick Division semi-final, New York Islanders forward Pat Lafontaine became the hero when in the fourth period of overtime, he scored the Game 7 series winner against the Washington Capitals.

Playoff hockey is also about goalies such as Hall of Famers Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Billy Smith, to name just a few, who carved out their reputations with some thrilling post-season performances which had hockey fans from coast-to-coast and packed arenas entertained on the edge of their seats.

What also makes the NHL playoffs so special is the abundance of parity in the league that strong debates can be made on behalf of several teams who have strong chances of capturing the 2024 Stanley Cup. In my opinion, the top five teams who have the best chance to lift this year’s Stanley Cup are, in no particular order, the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and, with all due respect to the defending Stanley Cup champions Vegas Golden Knights, the Florida Panthers.

It’s common knowledge among hockey fans that a team must have strong goaltending to be considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

On a game night in front of a packed Madison Square Gardens fanbase, it’s very common for the historic arena to echo with chants of ‘Igor, Igor’ for their beloved Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin. The 2022 Vezina Trophy winner finished tied this season with Panther’s goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for third place with 36 wins on the year. Shesterkin also finished with a solid 2.48 GAA and .916 save percentage and is more than capable of leading the Rangers to this year’s Stanley Cup.

The Hurricanes also have a stud between the pipes. Frederik Andersen, who since returning in early March from a blood clot issue, has gone on a 9-1-0 streak with a 9.51 save percentage showing that he’s back to being healthy. On the season Andersen finished at 13-2-0 with a 1.84 GAA and a 9.12 save percentage.

Meanwhile, the Bruins are led in net by the dynamic duel of the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark and first-time All-Star game participant Jeremy Swayman. Swayman, who didn’t get much attention until this year posted a 25-10-0-8 record on the campaign with three shutouts along with a nifty .253 GAA and a 916 save percentage. Ulmark posted similar stats which saw him go 22-10-7 with two shutouts and a 2.57 GAA on the year along with a .915 save percentage.

A big reason why the Panthers made it to last year’s Stanley Cup Finals was because of the clutch play of Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky, 35, who is affectionately known as ‘Goalie Bob’ had another strong season which saw him post an impressive 36-17-4 record with six shutouts along with a 2.37 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

The definite wildcard goalie in this group is Colorado Avalanche netminder Alexandar Georgiev who hasn’t had that sparkling playoff success. Following up a 40-win season, Georgiev had another strong year which saw him go 38-18-0 with five shutouts and a 3.02 GAA. The million-dollar question in Colorado is whether he can carry over that strong play into the post-season.

All these five teams also have explosive well-balanced offence along with a strong blue line which are essential ingredients for a successful Stanley Cup run. 

The Rangers, who won the Presidents Trophy with 114 points, are led offensively by veteran forward Artemi Panarin who with 49 goals and 120 points is the nucleus of the team’s offence. They also have such offensive studs with 75-point man Chris Kreider and 77-point producer Vincent Trocheck who is deadly on face-offs. Quarterbacking the blueline is Adam Fox who had 73 points along with a +21.

The Hurricanes, who finished third overall with 111 points, are led by one of the league’s quiet superstars forward Sebastian Aho who was the team’s leading scorer with 36 goals, 89 points and a tidy +34 rating. Carolina’s offence got even more dangerous with the trade deadline acquisitions of Jake Guentrzel who came from the Pittsburgh Penguins and finished the season with 77 points and former Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov who back in 2018 won the Stanley Cup as a Capital.

Up front, the Canes also have two more underrated talented players in Teuvo Teravainen, who is coming off a 25-goal season, and Seth Jarvis, who had a career-best 33 goals, 67-point campaign.

While the Canes might not have any superstars on the blue-line, it’s still a strong defence core led by former All-Star Brent Burns who at 39 years of age scored this season an impressive 43 points and finished at +19. Another of the many key defenceman Carolina has is Jaccob Slavin who produced 37 points this season and a +21.

The Canes have a lot of talented players who don’t get talked about a lot. They are definitely among the favourites to win the 2024 Stanley Cup. You can also bet they will be extra, extra motivated as they try to win the Stanley Cup for Burns who at the sunset of his career has never won one. 

Back in September, hockey journalists believed that the Bruins would take a giant step backwards. After winning the 2023 Presidents Trophy, they lost several key players such as forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, who both retired, and Taylor Hall along with Nick Foligno who both ended up this season with the Chicago Blackhawks.

While the Bruins didn’t repeat this season as regular season champions, they still finished second in the Atlantic Division with 109 points.

Leading the Bruins offensive charge was once again All-Star David Pastrnak who was the team’s leading scorer with 47 goals and 110 points. Another star who had a solid season was Bruins captain Brad Marchand who scored 29 goals while tallying 67 points.

A familiar theme with Boston compared to the other teams I’ve talked about is that the Bruins have a wealth of scoring depth in the likes of Charlie Coyle who produced 25 goals and 50 points this year along with Pavel Zacha’s 21 goals and 59 points to name just a few. 

The Bruins big stud on defence is veteran Charlie McAvoy who logs mega minutes per game and can block shots, rush the puck and make offensive plays along with play physical.

Both the Avalanche and Panthers have an explosive deep offensive core who can strike at any time. Colorado, who won their last cup in 2022, are led offensively by the team’s 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon who this past season finished second overall in league scoring with 46 goals and 107 points along with an impressive plus/minus of a +36.

Besides MacKinnon, Colorado is also led offensively by forwards Mikko Rantanen, Valeri Nichushkin and Jonathan Drouin who posted a career-high of 56 points. On defence, the Avalanche are led by former 2020 Calder Trophy winner and 2022 Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar who this season produced 21 goals and 90 points while boasting a plus/minus of a +15.

In South Florida, where the Panthers are searching for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, they have all sorts of offensive weapons up front led by 50-goal scorer and pending unrestricted free agent Sam Reinhart who picked the right time to have a career season with 57 goals and 94 points while having an impressive +29 stat. Other top-notch offensive forwards on Florida include 88-point man Matthew Tkachuk along with veteran captain Aleksander Barkov who produced 80 points this year and 34 goals scorer Carter Verhaeghe to name a few.

Leading Florida on the blueline is defensive specialist Gustav Forsling who along with racking up 10 goals and 39 points was also a league-best plus/minus of +56.

Convincing debates can be made for such teams as the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars and the defending Champions Golden Knights to win the 2024 Stanley Cup. 

One thing is for sure and that’s hockey fans from coast-to-coast are in for a huge treat as they get to experience that ultimate rush of playoff hockey as their beloved team competes for the hardest trophy to win.

Share this post: