Evolving Hockey 2024 Playoff Preview: Round 2

A note: The league scheduled the second round before the first round was completely finished, and sure enough we get the rare round 1 / round 2 overlap on the same day! We here at Evolving Hockey thought it would be a good idea to get our previews up for the series we knew about before they started. Check back tomorrow for the other two previews! If anything pertinent changes tomorrow, I’ll make sure I come back and talk about it in the intro (I probably won’t). 

For a few days there, it felt like we may have been in trouble; the first round has historically been one of the more entertaining parts of the playoffs for fans, but little seemed to indicate that would continue after the first few games. Before the Stars brought their series with the Knights to an even 2-2, no series looked likely to end in seven games. But Toronto and Vegas, being the stalwarts of drama they’ve always been, pushed their respective series to game 7s, and we finished the first round with some very memorable moments.

The Leafs specifically made a spectacle of their series, owning the only crushing game-7 overtime loss we had the pleasure of experiencing (I hope I’m not jinxing the yet-to-be-played Stars / Knights game 7). The Jets win the award for “most disappointing performance in a playoff series” with their 5 goals against per game delivered by the Avalanche, the Predators almost rewarded Shawn for his upset pick before the first round with their surprisingly stifling strategy, and the [Stars/Knights] did a/an [insert adjective] job [insert sports verb] the [possessive Stars/Knights] [insert sports noun] (this will be updated tomorrow). The rest of the winners did what most expected (sorry other winners, it’s only round 1, you gotta do something more interesting to get your little spot in the EH preview intro). In rare form, the second round may end up being more exciting than the first. Vancouver / Edmonton may set everything on fire, New York / Carolina is going to shake the foundation of analytics, and the Panthers and Bruins. We’ll see what Colorado does agains the Stars and/or Golden Knights.

Here’s where we stand right now:

Conference Home Away Round 1 % Outcome
East FLA T.B 76.3% – 23.7% 4-1
East BOS TOR 41.3% – 58.7% 4-3
East NYR WSH 85.6% – 14.4% 4-0
East CAR NYI 90.0% – 10.0% 4-1
West DAL VGK 78.4% – 21.6% 4-3
West WPG COL 43.5 – 56.5% 1-4
West VAN NSH 72.9% – 27.1% 4-2
West EDM L.A 71.7% – 28.3% 4-1

Let’s get to it!

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers (M1)     vs.     Carolina Hurricanes (M2)

31.4%                         68.6%

The story of NYR / WSH is fairly similar to that of the Rangers’ season in general: tread water at even-strength, make your special teams money, and let the goaltending follow. The Capitals actually out-attempted the Rangers in 3 of the 4 games in the series, and the Rangers’ xGF share at EV ended at ~47%, but their 5 goals on the PP and 2 goals shorthanded along with the second best all-situations Save % in the first round (before TOR / BOS and DAL / VGK) made the series look easy for New York – the only team that swept. We’ve talked about this at length, but the Rangers play with fire and still get away with it somehow. This isn’t what Hockey Stats tells us teams are supposed to do! They’re supposed to do what their second-round opponent does! Carolina (their second-round opponent), however, will heavily test this team’s ability to utilize their powerplay. The Hurricanes allowed the fewest xGA/60 and CA/60 shorthanded in the ’23-24 regular season while still generating top-10 PP quality of their own. That said, the Rangers may have the best collection of shooters left in the playoffs, and Shesterkin may be the best remaining goalie. Hard to ask for more.

It felt like it may have been a little bit of the same-old for the Hurricanes in game 2 against the Islanders, until their first goal halfway through the second period and close to a plus-70 shot attempt differential finish by the end of it. There were very few points of criticism to be found for the Hurricanes before the first round, and it feels like there are even fewer now. Granted the Islanders weren’t the most formidable opponent, but this Carolina team is an absolute juggernaut. They ended the first round with the most on-ice EV CF/60 and least CA/60 by a decent margin, 3 of their 4 regular forward lines finished in the top-10 among all lines in terms of overall 5v5 CF%, and they have (so far) avoided any injury issues. Of note, somethings maybe don’t change much: only Vegas (through six games) had a lower 5v5 shooting percentage than the Canes 6.1%. A Rangers team that doesn’t care about even-strength play and relies heavily on goaltending may just be the odd solution to this looney tunes Canes team. Our models, however, have never doubted Corsi.


Florida Panthers (A1)     vs.     Boston Bruins (A2)

70.7%                         29.3%

The Florida Panthers made their way through the first round with little trouble – beating their aging opponent in five games. It was a close series; the Panthers managed only a 5v5 CF% of 49.6% and xGF% of 48.8%, but they showed very little sign of weakness throughout. Sergei Bobrovsky looks steady in net right now, with 1.97 goals saved above expected, but may still have more to give.

The Boston Bruins enter the second round after a proper scare: it took a game seven overtime after blowing a 3-1 series lead and allowing the first goal of the elimination game to get the job done. Like the Panthers, the underlying stats in the series were quite even, although the rate of goal scoring was far lower. The Bruins clogged the neutral zone, limiting Toronto’s ability to create rush offense, forcing them to create solely off the cycle. While the Maple Leaf’s forecheck and cycling wasn’t strong enough to get past the Bruins, it was a clear area of success for the Panthers in their first-round win against the Bruins last year.

Boston swept the season series, but the Panthers are still the clear favorite in this matchup, especially with home ice advantage (earned on the last day of their regular season). The Bruins went with Swayman for six of the seven starts in the first round, partially due to how well Swayman played against Toronto in the regular season and the series. Linus Ullmark is assuredly well-rested and started three of the four regular season games against the Panthers. We’ll see whether the Bruins deploy both goalies in this series or ditch the rotation idea altogether. Swayman is still the goalie our models prefer, if only by a slight margin.


Western Conference

Vancouver Canucks (P1)     vs.     Edmonton Oilers (P2)

29.1%                         70.9%

We get the series everyone wanted: a matchup of possibly the most ardent albeit slightly delusional fans in the NHL. Nashville put up an impressive fight against Vancouver, almost forcing a game 7 until Canucks Legend Pius Suter scored with less than 2-minutes left in game 7. While the Canucks played well overall, the main storyline out of Vancouver is Arturs Silovs, the 23-year old goalie who was asked to take over the net for the unfortunately injured, stellar Thatcher Demko. Silovs’ 28-save shutout in game 6 (saving 3.5 goals above expected) won the series. Other than their goaltending questions, not much has changed for Vancouver. The aforementioned Pius Suter led all forwards in on-ice CF%, Hughes-Hronek led all D-pairs in the first round in 5v5 CF%, and their unfortunately required mix-and-match goaltending group still finished top-3 among all first round teams in 5v5 save %. The Oilers, on the other hand, will prove a much more difficult opponent.

The Oilers and Kings may have had the most “even” series in the first round at least from a 2014 hockey stats view: both teams finished with almost 50% of the shot-attempt and goal share at 5v5. The 5-game series itself was a swingin’ affair! (this is a Frank Sinatra reference for absolutely no reason). Games 1, 3, and 5 saw the Oilers control play quite well while the games in between showcased the Kings’ ability to limit the Oilers explosive top-end and dominate with their depth. Like the Canucks, nothing has really changed for the Oilers either. Stuart Skinner was less than ideal, saving a little less than a goal above expected in his 5 games played, but the equation here remains the same. They have McDavid after all. Vancouver and Edmonton meet for a series that may just set Western Canada on fire. I know the stats and my preview here hardly do this justice, but if you’re on any media platform, the content out of this series will surely be something to cherish. This may turn out to the be the best series in the second round, and more likely than not it won’t be because of the game being played on ice.


Dallas Stars (C1)     vs.     Colorado Avalanche (C3)

68.0%                         32.0%

The Dallas Stars did what we alone thought: take down the villainous Golden Knights. This isn’t true at all. Most of the public models still favored the Stars in this series, our models were just much higher on them than anyone else. This actually caused us to investigate things a little more after our initial simulations, but everything checked out. Maybe it’s their skater defense (2nd in regular season RAPM EV xGA), maybe it’s our model’s faith in Oettinger despite a mediocre ’23-24 regular season (top-10 in goalie GAR over prior 3 seasons), maybe it’s Joe Pavelski (39 year-old Plover, WI superstar). Either way, the Stars came back from an 0-2 deficit against the surging Knights to force a low-event game 7. Despite what a 7-game series might indicate, the Stars ended the first round with the highest on-ice EV xGF% while allowing the least EV goals among any playoff team. We didn’t see the offense they’re known for, but offense doesn’t matter anyway, right?? Their second-round opponent brings much more firepower, but the Stars bring with them the best remaining defensive skater group in the league. And that, folks, is why the two disgruntled Wild fans who made this website are required to cheer for the team that stole our name. Sigh.

Colorado embarrassed the twins’ favorite team in round 1. They generated the most xGF at EV, scored more than a goal above the next team at all-situations per-60, and made fans (including us) question Hellebuyck’s dominance. In all seriousness, this was in no way Connor’s fault. As we discussed in our first-round preview, the Avalanche’s high-end talent is just insane. Few teams bring with them the combination of MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen in any offensive situation with Toews, Nichushkin, and Lehkonen to round out their top lines/pairs. Interestingly, their depth out-classed the Jets this round: Manson, Walker, and Mittelstadt led all Colorado skaters in on-ice EV CF%. That’s not necessarily something special as no Avalanche player finished with an EV CF% below 50%. Alexander Georgiev did, however, finish the series saving one goal below expected. We noted this in our round 1 preview, but if there is one weakness for this Avs team, it may be goaltending. Dallas didn’t rely on their offense in the first round, but they’re more than capable of that, and in a long series it wouldn’t surprise me if the Stars potentially figure out Georgiev. Either way, this series continues the trend of absolutely fantastic second round matchups. What a treat for all of us.

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