NHL playoff hope tiers: From top Stanley Cup favorites to draft lottery darlings

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Hope can be a powerful motivation for NHL teams. Or it can be a powerful hallucinogen, with the lure of the playoffs altering best-laid plans. Or it can be a foreign concept for teams that are dwelling in the standings basement as the midpoint of the season nears.

Here are the Stanley Cup hope tiers as they are currently constituted. The projected points and playoff probabilities are through Tuesday’s games and provided by Stathletes.

We begin with the highest of hopes:

Tier 1: True Stanley Cup contenders

Projected points: 106.3
Playoff probability: 99.2%
Stanley Cup win probability: 3.7%

Their hopes get higher if: Boston hasn’t gotten enough credit this season as one of the NHL’s surprise teams. After the shocking playoff exit and retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, along with other lineup defections over the summer, no one expected the Bruins to challenge for another President’s Trophy. And yet there they are as the calendar flips to 2024, thanks to the league’s best goaltending and special teams.

They did seem to feel those lineup losses earlier this season when their offense sputtered. The Bruins still aren’t all that threatening at 5-on-5, ranking 18th in expected goals per 60 minutes. Boston could use an offensive infusion before the trade deadline and some additional help at center. The challenge is that GM Don Sweeney went all-in for last year’s juggernaut — Boston doesn’t own a draft pick until the fourth round this summer.

Their hopes get lower if: Their underlying numbers can’t become a little more Bruins-like. Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have helped Boston to 1.98 goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, thanks to their combined .920 team save percentage, best in the NHL. They’ve covered for a lot of what’s happening in front of them, where the Bruins are under 50% in expected goals and shot attempts at 5-on-5.

These are things that never happened in the Bergeron years. They can’t continue to happen if Boston hopes to hoist the Stanley Cup one year after Bergeron was supposed to lift it.



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