Sixteen games were played in the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Some trends from the first round continued. Others didn’t.

With multiple teams on the cusp of elimination, it’s time for another quick set of playoffs, thanks to NHL reporters Ryan S. Clark and Kristen Shilton.

Jake Oettinger is strengthening his case to be Team USA’s starting goalkeeper

Thatcher Demko. Connor Hellebuyck. Jake Ottinger. Jeremy Swayman. These appear to be the four leading names that could play target role for the USA in the next Four Nations showdown in 2025, along with the Winter Olympics in 2026.

Their selection of these goalkeepers reinforces the belief that the United States is one of the front-runners to win both tournaments. Naturally, one of them is expected to miss, as teams usually take three goalkeepers. This is a question that will likely be answered over time. But for now, Oettinger is using the 2024 playoffs to make a case for not only making the team but potentially getting the nod in net.

Oettinger’s 24-save performance in the Dallas Stars’ 5-1 Game 4 win against the Colorado Avalanche means he’s now 7-4 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage on the season. He provided the kind of stability that allowed the Stars to reach the Western Conference Finals. And he did it while playing the proverbial SEC schedule, with the Stars facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in the first round followed by the Avs, who will win the Cup in 2022.

Demko, who has struggled with injuries the past few months, will likely return to the Vancouver Canucks if they can reach the conference finals. Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy favorite, endured the toughest postseason, with a GAA that was north of 5.00 and a save percentage of .870. As for Swayman, he has posted a 2.28 GAA with a .920 save percentage, though the Boston Bruins’ past three losses to the Florida Panthers have seen him surrender more than three goals per game since winning Game 1 of the series.

Other factors will go into the team (and lineup) selection process. But this postseason, Oettinger is providing the consistent high level of goaltending that Team USA will need in the next best ever tournament. — Clark

Bennett didn’t arrive until Game 3 of the Florida Panthers’ series against the Boston Bruins, but suffice it to say the guy has made his mark. The Panthers forward has one goal, one assist, one controversial hit on Brad Marchand (that knocked the Bruins captain out of Game 4 with an upper-body injury) and one controversial scoring sequence under his belt already.

And Boston fans were happy to let Bennett have it whenever he touched the puck in Game 4.

Bennett is the latest example of a player becoming a playoff lightning rod. The question is: Will his antics galvanize the Bruins from here and help them overcome a 3-1 series deficit? Or will Bennett pressing the button give Florida more confidence to stay atop its Atlantic Division rivals?

Playoff game-changers aren’t always defined by X’s and O’s, and Bennett certainly spiced up the Florida-Boston matchup in unexpected ways. — Shelton

He plays


Sam Bennett scores the equalizer on clutch power

Sam Bennett takes advantage of the power play and scores a big goal for the Panthers to tie the score against the Bruins.

Why can’t anyone in the West take the lead?

One common theme in the Western Conference semifinal series is that no lead is safe. The Dallas Stars found that out in Game 1 when the Colorado Avalanche came back from a three-goal deficit to win in overtime. Game 2 saw the Stars take a 4-0 lead only to see the Avs score three goals before the Stars won 5-3. In Game 3, the Stars took a 1-0 lead until the Avs tied the game. The Stars scored again but were under threat before a pair of empty-net goals gave them a 4-1 lead.

The Edmonton Oilers took a two-goal lead in Game 1 before the Vancouver Canucks won 5-4. The Canucks had a one-goal lead in Game 2 before the Oilers won it in overtime. Game 3 saw the Oilers jump out to a 1-0 lead before the Canucks scored three straight goals. Even then, the Oilers scored two of the final three goals of the game and made life hectic for the Canucks as they scored early in the third period before losing 4-3.

What about the Western Conference now? Why do each of the four teams make equal arguments about how to go for the lead – and could lose it just as easily? One reason is that the four were fairly strong coming back in the regular season. The Stars are 23-15-4 when their opponents score first, while the Avalanche are 20-17-0 when their opponents score first. The Oilers are 18-18-3 in those situations while the Canucks are 12-12-5.

“It’s definitely a mental boost and rebound if you believe in what your team is doing and you have firepower, and I think all teams have firepower and can score,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “You get something going your way, it’s snowballing and the other team is trying to stay alive for a while. If you can capitalize on an opportunity or two, it starts to turn the tide.

“Belief gets stronger and stronger… When you play from the back, you get to a certain part of the game where you have nothing to lose. You either come out losing or you push to try to make it happen.” I think the teams are evenly matched, all desperate to try to survive and progress and putting everything on the line. — Clark

Go big or go deep?

The New York Rangers-Carolina Hurricanes series is a fascinating look at how two great teams approached the trade deadline this season – with varied results.

Last season, the Rangers went all out, acquiring Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko to (theoretically) give them a boost come playoff time. New York’s potential stars never played their role, and the Rangers were eliminated in the first round. This season, New York added depth in Alex Wennberg and Jack Roslovic so its core can shine as it is — and it’s working.

Meanwhile, Carolina followed the Rangers’ script from last season with a blockbuster deadline (hello, Jake Guentzel). But somehow, the Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup Final-planning ship hit big water in the second round.

Now, it’s not all down to one worker (or player). But this shows how it’s not always the big swings that ultimately determine a team’s fate. Maybe it’s a mentality or mentality that comes with staying the course. New York has essentially bet on itself to get the job done, and it’s working. Carolina gathered reinforcements, and that did not pay off as quickly. Oddly enough, if there’s anyone who can relate, it’s the Rangers. — Shelton

Lingering questions about the Oilers’ goal

Stuart Skinner has become a topic of conversation for the second season in a row. Last year, he was a rookie and was drafted four times, three of which came out early in the second round. Fast forward to this season. In Game 3, he was pulled after two periods and now has a 4.63 goals against average and .790 save percentage in three games against the Canucks.

He left it up to Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch to decide before Game 4. Should he go back to Skinner? Or turn to Calvin Pickard, who replaced Skinner in Game 3? Or does all of this open the door for Jack Campbell? According to local media reports on Tuesday, Pickard got the nod for Game 4.

But how will the decision facing Knoblauch in the postseason affect the club’s future? Campbell is under contract for another three years at $5 million per year, while Skinner has two years remaining at $2.6 million per year. Pickard is a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that Cap Friendly projects will have just under $9 million in cap space this offseason.

The past five years have seen the Oilers go from a promising team featuring two generational talents in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid to a team that carries championship expectations every season. At that time, the Oilers’ front office worked to meet their needs, which ranged from finding a scoring secondary and strengthening the defense to acquiring goalies they felt could help them win a title.

But with their current situation, what could next season look like for the Oilers in goal? Especially when they have 10 UFAs, seven of which are on offense. And even that comes in the context that anything they do this offseason could impact what happens in the summer of 2025, when Draisaitl could hit the open market. — Clark

Is Edmonton built to last?

There is no doubt about the Oilers’ ability to score. They did a lot of that in the postseason. But is Edmonton built to win long-term here?

Keep in mind that the Oilers have scored 33 total goals – but only 17 at even strength. This top-rated power play has been a vital part of Edmonton’s success thus far, and now it’s witnessing what happens when you face a penalty kill as dramatic as Vancouver’s. Pucks can stop frequently finding threads for the man’s benefit. The Oilers are 4-for-8 on the power play through three games. However, the Canucks nearly match them, at 3 for 9. If the special teams battle becomes neutral territory, it’s fair to wonder if the Oilers can get out of the second round based solely on their balanced play.

McDavid has one 5-on-5 goal in the playoffs. Draisaitl has two. But each has 10 total points on the power play. There may still be a shift coming. Special teams would do well to start translating throughout the game for Edmonton. — Shelton


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