Through the first 33 games of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs, one team was swept, while six of the other seven series reached 3-1 (Stars-Golden Knights is 2-2). It’s been a bit lopsided, but there’s been no shortage of drama.

From goaltending decisions to lineup moves to the usual slew of “only in hockey” injuries, it’s been a wild 33 games to start off the postseason.

To put it all into context, here are ESPN reporters Ryan S. Clark, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski with their top takeaways after the second wave of first-round games.

Panthers ‘get over that hump’

If the past is prologue, the Florida Panthers‘ journey back to the Stanley Cup Final could have ended in the first round. The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Panthers in both of their previous playoff meetings, taking them out in six games in 2021 and then sweeping them in 2022.

“At some point you knew you were going to have them again and you’ve got to be able to get over that hump,” Florida center Aleksander Barkov said, “and we did it this year.”

Florida’s five-game victory over the Lightning didn’t just advance the Panthers to the second round. It offered them catharsis and validation.

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“Tons of respect for what they’ve done and for all the players on the team that have won there,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “Just to be in a playoff series against your biggest rival is so cool.”

Anthony Duclair has seen both sides of the rivalry in the last year, having been a Panther last season and then getting sent to the Lightning at the trade deadline from the San Jose Sharks.

“They’re a well-rounded, well-built team,” he said after Game 5. “It starts with Bob. He made some key saves in key moments.”

Take out that horror show Game 4 in which he gave up six goals, and Sergei Bobrovsky had a .922 save percentage in his four victories against the Lightning, including a 31-save effort in Game 5. “He makes crazy saves at crazy times,” Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “When we need him to be big, he’s big. In this series, he makes saves that only one or two guys in the world can make.”

All of it fueled the first Panthers playoff series win over their prestigious state rivals. Coach Paul Maurice said you have to “slay the dragon” and felt it was an important step in his team’s maturation as a championship contender.

“You’ve got to do the things that you haven’t been able to do to show forward motion and progress. Because there was more pressure on our team,” he said. — Wyshynski

Depth scoring could be the difference in Golden Knights-Stars

There was Evgenii Dadonov‘s game-tying goal in the first period. And there was Ty Dellandrea‘s eventual game winner in the second period. They were two of the most significant moments in the Stars’ 4-2 win in Game 4 that allowed them to tie the series against the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights.

Those also the latest examples of how depth could play a role in deciding the only series that’s tied going into Game 5. Dadonov and Dellandrea’s contributions are just the second and third goals the Stars have received these playoffs from players who are not in their top-six forward corps, or on the top defense pairing. So far, eight of the Stars’ 11 goals have come from those particular groups. Mason Marchment, who is out with an undisclosed injury, also got on the board back in Game 1.

One of the hallmarks of the Golden Knights’ title run was their ability to receive goals throughout their lineup. So far, getting secondary and tertiary offense has been an issue to this point. Like the Stars, eight of their 11 goals have come from their top-six forwards or top defensive pairing. Second-pairing defenseman Brayden McNabb is responsible for having two of those goals beyond that group. The other is Michael Amadio, who gave the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead in Game 4. Stay tuned. — Clark


Evgenii Dadonov scores … off of goalie’s facemask?

Evgenii Dadonov’s goal stuns the Vegas crowd as the Stars tie the score 1-1.

Leafs crumpled by putrid power play

They call it the “man advantage” for a reason — in theory, a power play is supposed to help a team score goals. In practice, the opposite has been true for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs are a woeful 1-for-14 on the power play (7.1%) through four playoff games, and it has shattered everything from their confidence to their postseason record (currently 1-3, on the brink of elimination). Coach Sheldon Keefe has called the Leafs’ lack of power-play success one of the most “disappointing” aspects in their playoff run thus far, and it’s in stark contrast to the regular season, where they finished seventh overall with a 24.0% conversion rate.

On the other side, the Boston Bruins have had far fewer struggles capitalizing on power-play opportunities (they’re 6-for-13), and that five-goal difference in production spells out a significant storyline in the series so far: One team has been able to execute when it counts; one team has not. — Shilton

Casey at the bat? Avs’ Mittelstadt proving to be a big hit in his first playoff run

Trading Bowen Byram to the Buffalo Sabres to get Casey Mittelstadt was a move that allowed the Colorado Avalanche to address one of their greatest roster concerns: finding a potential long-term, second-line center solution. Mittelstadt’s early results — scoring four goals and 10 points in 18 games — showed he was finding his place.

Mittelstadt’s work through four playoff games has given the Avs the sort of depth production that they struggled to conjure in last year’s first-round elimination. With fellow Minnesotan Zach Parise and Finland native Artturi Lehkonen, the “Finnesotans” have given the Avs a second line that’s driven offensive play while showing defensive reliability.

And remember: This is Mittelstadt’s first career playoff run, and he’s doing it for a team trying to win its second Cup in three years. This is also just months before the pending restricted free agent will need a new contract. Mittelstadt is on a three-year deal that has seen him earn $2.5 million annually. His play thus far for Colorado is evidence that his next deal will be a more lucrative one. — Clark

A wild round of goaltending narratives

Just halfway through the first round, at least half of this year’s playoff teams have dealt with some form of goaltending drama.

Connor Hellebuyck imploding for the Winnipeg Jets with 19 goals allowed in 11 periods before he was pulled from Game 4

Patrick Roy’s ill-fated decision to start Ilya Sorokin over Semyon Varlamov in Game 3 for the New York Islanders

The Vancouver Canucks churning through three goalies (Thatcher Demko, Casey DeSmith and Arturs Silovs) in four games

The Los Angeles Kings turning from Cam Talbot to David Rittich for a spark against the Edmonton Oilers (and his allowing just one goal)

The Boston Bruins‘ unnecessary drama surrounding the rotation of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark

Sergei Bobrovsky‘s viral save against the Tampa Bay Lightning

The goalies aren’t taking a back seat when it comes to generating storylines, either by helping or hurting their teams’ chances along the way. — Shilton

The Rangers’ rare dominance

Only five teams in NHL history had won the Presidents’ Trophy and then swept their opening-round playoff series. The New York Rangers made it six after brooming the Washington Capitals. Three of the previous five went on to win the Stanley Cup, including the last Rangers team to hoist the Cup (1994). So that bodes well.

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The Rangers didn’t just defeat the Capitals — they dominated them. New York trailed in its four games against Washington for a total of 201 seconds. That’s the least amount of time the club has trailed in a best-of-seven series in franchise history.

It’s only one series, against an opponent whose fuel gauge was teetering on empty after grinding for the last wild-card spot. But the Rangers have that championship feel right now. Their power play converted six times in 16 attempts, while their penalty kill went 15-for-17 and produced two short-handed goals. Igor Shesterkin had a .931 save percentage and a 1.75 goals-against average in the series.

Their top two lines are clicking, as evidenced by their two leading scorers playing on two different lines: While Mika Zibanejad leads the Rangers with seven points, Vincent Trocheck might have been their best forward overall, finishing with three goals and three assists.

“We won the series, so it’s good. But for sure we have to build up for the next round, 100 percent. Better teams in the second round,” forward Artemi Panarin said. — Wyshynski


Jack Roslovic seals Rangers sweep with empty-net goal

Jack Roslovic caps off the Rangers’ night with an empty-net goal to make it 4-2, sealing the 4-0 sweep vs. the Capitals.

Carolina’s cooled top line could be an issue

The Hurricanes were one double-overtime goal away from sweeping the New York Islanders and advancing to the second round. That Islanders star Mathew Barzal found mesh before one of Carolina’s stars might not be so surprising, really.

Lost in the shuffle of New York falling behind 3-0 in the series is that the Hurricanes haven’t had much success scoring at 5-on-5 — and their top line has been disturbingly quiet. Carolina’s vaunted trio of Jake Guentzel, Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov have controlled possession nearly 64% of the time when on the ice, but they’ve generated just one even-strength score — and Carolina has just six five-on-five goals through four games.

Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour seemed to recognize that’s a problem by shaking up his second, third and fourth lines at practice Monday (without fully committing to changes for Game 5) but when Brind’Amour lamented giving the Islanders “hope” in that double-OT loss, he may have had those scoring struggles on the brain.

Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen has been fantastic in net throughout the series, and Carolina’s back end is strong as ever. But if the Hurricanes can’t bury more pucks without the help of a power play (where they’re 4-for-14), New York may find more life in this series yet — Shilton

Penalties plus struggling PK have placed Kings in proverbial checkmate

Not that a pair of Hart Trophy winners such as Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid — along with a 50-goal scorer in Zach Hyman — needed help scoring. But the Los Angeles Kings have provided those three with even more scoring chances on the power play.

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In the regular season, the Kings were one of the strongest teams in the NHL when it came to the penalty kill and avoiding penalties altogether. They finished second in the league with an 84.6% success rate on the kill, while finishing tied for 12th in terms of fewest penalty minutes.

The playoffs have been a different story. The Kings entered Monday with the worst kill in the postseason (with a 46.7% success rate) while the 63 minutes they’ve accrued through four games is the second most among 16 playoff teams. The New York Islanders are first, at 105 minutes.

Eight of McDavid’s 10 points have come with the extra skater advantage, with six of Draisaitl’s eight points coming that way. As noted above: These guys don’t need all the extra help, and this series is going to be a short one if the Kings can’t reverse the trends. — Clark


Evan Bouchard rips one-timer to give Oilers lead in the 2nd

Evan Bouchard’s shot finds the top-left corner of the net for the Edmonton goal on the power play.

The hits keep coming (and coming)

It’s no secret that the physicality picks up in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But this postseason has been particularly brutal, especially when compared to the regular season.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the combined hits per game during the 2023-24 regular season was 45.5. Entering Monday night’s games, the combined hits per game rate in the playoffs was 83.3. This number should drop as the postseason rolls on. Last season’s playoffs averaged 70.6 combined hits per game overall, while they averaged 75.0 combined hits in the first round.

But given how many “heavy hockey” teams are still involved in the playoffs, the hits should keep on coming. Of the top eight teams in the regular season in hits per 60 minutes, seven of them were still alive in the playoffs as of Tuesday night: The Panthers (28.2), Maple Leafs (27.4), Bruins (27.1), Canucks (26.3), Predators (26.0), Islanders (24.8) and Golden Knights (24.4).

This hit parade is also part of a larger trend. Since the NHL started tracking the stat in 2005-06, the top four postseasons in hits per game have all happened since 2019. The current leader was the 2020-21 playoffs, at 76.7 combined hits per game. — Wyshynski

Canucks’ current situation might feel familiar

A team that missed the playoffs the year before has since relied on its stars while tapping into its depth, all while doing it with multiple goaltenders. This is one of the more succinct ways to describe how the Canucks are just a win away from advancing to the second round for the first time since 2019-20.

It also sounds extremely similar to the circumstances the Vegas Golden Knights faced last season before winning the Stanley Cup. Whether or not the Canucks have a similar fate, however, is a development that’s still unfolding. But winning 50 games this season has seen the Canucks ascend into the discussion of teams that could win the West, if not the Cup.

One of the differences between last year’s Golden Knights and this year’s Canucks is their respective paths. Four consecutive playoff appearances with two trips to the conference finals and one Cup Final appearance were interrupted when the Golden Knights missed the playoffs in 2021-22 before winning it all the following season.

The Canucks’ lengthy drought, however, means this is the first time this particular group is going through a playoff run together. It’s been a committee approach thus far: Eight players have more than two points through four games, while a different goalie has backstopped each of the team’s three wins. Relying on the sum of their parts has allowed the Canucks to be one of the more intriguing teams. Could it be a formula that also sees them be one of the most successful in this year’s playoffs? — Clark