David Pastrnak [1296x729]
David Pastrnak [1296x729] (Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

We ve got to be better Las Vegas Aces are the favorite but have work to do

The first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs are here, with 16 teams all looking to take a step closer to hockey immortality. The Vegas Golden Knights look to defend their championship, but they will face the Central-winning Dallas Stars in the first round.

The Toronto Maple Leafs look to end the longest championship drought in NHL history, but in their way are the Boston Bruins, who themselves are looking for redemption after falling in the first round last season to the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers, meanwhile, will have their hands full with Nikita Kucherov and in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning.

For more on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, check out team odds to win the championship and which players have a shot at the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.

All odds accurate as of publish time. For more, go to ESPN BET. 

New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes

PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina; Saturday, 5 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Islanders +1.5 (-150), Hurricanes -1.5 (+130) Series line: Islanders (+320), Hurricanes (-425) Series length: Four games (+425), Five Games (+235), Six Games (+235), Seven Games (+250)

Best Bet: Jake Guentzel Most Points in Round 1 Series (+300). Averaging 1.47 points/game since joining the Hurricanes in early March, Guentzel ranks within the league's top-10, keeping pace with the likes of Auston Matthews and Kirill Kaprizov. In Carolina, only Guentzel's linemate Sebastien Aho (1.24/game) is anywhere nears that rate over the same stretch, while Kyle Palmieri leads the Islanders with 0.83/game. The top-line winger is also plowing into the postseason on an eight-game point streak (six goals, seven assists).

If the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Sebastian Aho (+2000). Carolina's top center is his club's No. 1 weapon at even-strength and with the extra skater, while also serving on the penalty kill. Falling one point shy of 90 (plus-34), the 26-year-old is coming off the best regular season of his career.

If the Islanders win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Semyon Varlamov (+10000). If Patrick Roy's squad manages to overcome overwhelming odds to win it all, it won't be because they're lighting up the scoreboard night in and out. Roy's go-to between the pipes, at least to start, will need to be as brilliant as he has been these past few weeks - 7-1-0, .936 SV%, 2.00 GAA - for the Islanders to remain competitive.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins

TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts; Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Maple Leafs +1.5 (-235), Bruins -1.5 (+180) Series line: Maple Leafs (+110), Bruins (-130) Series length: Four games (+575), Five Games (+270), Six Games (+200), Seven Games (+195)

Best Bet: John Tavares To Score Over 2.5 Goals in Round 1 (+300). Not only is Toronto's captain riding into the playoffs on a four-game scoring streak (five goals on 16 shots, including one on the power play), this series is expected to go six or seven games. On paper, that's some favorable math. With Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and the forward duo of Tavares and Mitch Marner, all projected to play on different lines, Boston's D should have its hands full.

If the Bruins win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? David Pastrnak (+1800). Boston needs their top offensive player to be his most dynamic self while the club's defense and goaltending duo do their respective best. Ranking fifth in the NHL with 110 points (47 goals/63 assists) this season, Pastrnak leaves the rest of his teammates in his productive dust. Second on the Bruins? Brad Marchand with 67 points.

If the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Auston Matthews (+2200). The potential Selke candidate almost scored 70 goals this season. If the Maple Leafs finally end a 57-year Cup drought it will be because their top superstar shines in all situations.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers

Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise, Florida; Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Lightning +1.5 (-190), Panthers -1.5 (+160) Series line: Lightning (+160), Panthers (-190) Series length: Four games (+550), Five Games (+255), Six Games (+205), Seven Games (+205)

Best Bet: Nikita Kucherov Most Points In Round 1 Series (+175). Never mind the league-leading average of 1.78/game in 2023-24, he only needs to register more points than any other skater this first round. Which doesn't feel like too colossal an ask, when considering Kucherov figured in on exactly half of his team's goals this campaign, and the Panthers are built to offer a more balanced scoring attack.

Best Bet: Carter Verhaeghe Most Goals In Round 1 Series (+800). Healthy once more, Verhaeghe could be in for a productive series on a line with Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk, while Tampa's top pair of Victor Hedman and Darren Raddysh focuses on shutting down the Vladimir Tarasenko/Aleksander Barkov/Sam Reinhart unit.

If the Panthers win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Matthew Tkachuk (+2000). While it's tough to settle on one candidate from a club ripe with several potential standouts, at his feisty, physical, and productive best, Tkachuk serves as a game-changing catalyst. Before falling hurt, he was a contender for the postseason's top individual award just a year ago.

If the Lightning win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Andrei Vasilevskiy (+5000). Lacking the balanced firepower and defensive prowess of recent years, this Tampa team isn't going far unless their top netminder, and 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, performs at an elite level.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers

Madison Square Garden, New York, New York; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Capitals +1.5 (-145), Rangers -1.5 (+125) Series line: Capitals (+340), Rangers (-450) Series length: Four games (+380), Five Games (+210), Six Games (+240), Seven Games (+280)

Best Bet: Igor Shesterkin To Record Over 44.5 Saves In Any Game in Round 1 (+225). This is essentially a wager on at least one game going to overtime. Hardly an outrageous thought, seeing that the most recent two contests between the pair of rivals were decided by a single goal, one in favor of the Rangers (2-1, Jan. 14), the other serving as a victory for Washington (3-2, Jan. 13).

If the Rangers win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Artemi Panarin (+1800). The Rangers don't secure The President's Trophy without this year's superstar turn from Panarin (120 points), who feels mentally "much better" entering this postseason compared to last year. They won't win the Cup - or even contend for it - either, without a near-similar showing from one of the league's top players.

If the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Charlie Lindgren (+25000). Inspired play from Alex Ovechkin won't suffice. The Capitals won't last a fat week, never mind into June, unless their current No. 1 continues to play like he has in muscling his squad into a playoff spot. Lindgren is 4-1-0 with the .949 SV% and 1.41 GAA since Apr. 9.

Nashville Predators at Vancouver Canucks

Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia; Sunday, 10 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Predators +1.5 (-200), Canucks -1.5 (+165) Series line: Predators (+130), Canucks (-150) Series length: Four games (+575), Five Games (+270), Six Games (+200), Seven Games (+200)

Best Bet: Filip Forsberg To Score Over 3.5 Goals In Round 1 (+170). If this series goes, or nears, the distance as anticipated, Forsberg lies in solid position to ring off four total goals or more. Skating on Nashville's top line with center Ryan O'Reilly and winger Gustav Nyquist - a new unit that grew increasingly dynamic as the season wore on - the Predators' leading scorer potted 25 goals in 32 games since Jan. 31. Only Toronto's Auston Matthews and Minnesota's Kirill Kaprizov found the back of the net more often over that same stretch.

If the Canucks win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? J.T. Miller (+5000). The Canucks' top two-way forward - with full respect to Elias Pettersson - also leads his club with an unprecedented 103 points. Relied upon in all situations, the versatile center will be counted on to pull everything out of his full bag of tricks if the Canucks are to reign supreme before all is over and done.

If the Predators win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Ryan O'Reilly (+20000). A supreme longshot to be sure, but the Preds will need more than a pile of points from Forsberg, productive contributions from defenseman Roman Josi, and superb goaltending from Juuse Saros if they're to pull this off. Don't forget, O'Reilly captured the coveted trophy when the Blues emerged victorious back in 2019. He intimately knows what needs to get done and how to do it.

Colorado Avalanche at Winnipeg Jets

Canada Life Center, Winnipeg, Alberta; Sunday, 7 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Avalanche +1.5 (-300), Jets -1.5 (+210) Series line: Avalanche (-135), Jets (+115) Series length: Four games (+550), Five Games (+275), Six Games (+200), Seven Games (+200)

Best Bet: Kyle Connor Most Points In Round 1 Series (+1600). Alexandar Georgiev has a 4.80 GAA through eight appearances since Mar. 24. Those who feel the Jets will put up significant numbers on Colorado's No. 1 netminder, while concurrently believing Connor Hellebuyck will not offer the same generosity the other way, should consider siding with Winnipeg's most dynamic scoring forward. Especially at that offered number. Connor is sliding into the postseason on an eight-game point streak, comprising four goals and eight assists.

If the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Nathan MacKinnon (+1500). It's difficult to look beyond the Hart Trophy candidate, and all he's accomplished this season, as a clear favorite if the Avs end up hoisting the Cup in mid-June. But those interested in a second strong option might consider defender Cale Makar (+2500), who won both the team and individual trophy only two years ago. Forward Mikko Rantanen (+6000) presents as a viable dark horse, after stringing together his second-straight 100-plus point campaign.

If the Jets win the Stanley Cup, who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? Connor Hellebuyck (+2500). Winnipeg - a mid-pack NHL team in scoring all season long - isn't advancing far without the Vezina favorite performing, consistently, at his stingiest best.

Vegas Golden Knights at Dallas Stars

American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas; Monday, 9:30 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Golden Knights +1.5 (-235), Stars -1.5 (+180) Series line: Stars (-135), Golden Knights (+115) Series length: Four games (+600), Five Games (+265), Six Games (+200), Seven Games (+200)

Los Angeles Kings at Edmonton Oilers

Rogers Place, Edmonton, Alberta; Monday, 10 p.m. ET

Game 1 Puck line: Kings +1.5 (-190), Oilers -1.5 (+160) Series line: Kings (+170), Oilers (-210) Series length: Four games (+550), Five Games (+250), Six Games (+205), Seven Games (+215)