After 27 years of waiting, the Florida Panthers are on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. They’ve swept the Carolina Hurricanes to win their first Eastern Conference championship since 1996.
The Panthers have overcome all the odds stacked against them. They beat the best regular season team in NHL history in the Boston Bruins, they beat the second seed in the Atlantic Division in the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games, and now they’ve upset the best team in the Metropolitan Division. Once again, they’ll have to go against the odds as they face the Vegas Golden Knights, who are also looking for their first Stanley Cup.
Panthers’ History Against the Golden Knights
The Panthers have a dark history against the Golden Knights both on and off the ice. During the Vegas Expansion Draft, the Golden Knights ran away with two Panthers forwards in Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. They now play on the same line, are number one and two in goals all-time with them and both are in the top five for the most points all-time. Additionally, their first coach was fresh off of losing his gig with the Panthers in head coach Gerard Gallant. He won the Jack Adams Award and took them to the Cup Final in their inaugural season, but dropped the series to the Washington Capitals 4-1.
Head-to-head is an interesting story. In the history of the Golden Knights franchise, the Cats have never won a game at T-Mobile arena with a record of 0-4-1 all-time. At home is a different story. Since 2017, the Panthers are 4-1-0 when they host Vegas at FLA Live Arena. In 2022-23, they split the season series at one game a piece with each team going 1-1-0.
The Final is a Whole New Animal
With this series, there is a chance for history to be shattered. The Panthers come in with a crazy postseason road record of 7-1 and an even record at home at 4-4. On the other corner of the ring, the Golden Knights have a postseason record of 6-3 at home and a road record of 7-2.
As previously mentioned, the Golden Knights were in this exact situation just six years ago but ultimately failed to take home the Cup. But the Panthers have gone against teams with championship experience and weathered the storm to get to this point.
Analyzing the Golden Knights
Even though the Panthers have had their share of adversity with the teams they’ve played, the Golden Knights will likely not go down as easy as Toronto or Carolina.
Vegas got back into the Final due to one of their original members in Marchessault. He’s tied for fourth in the playoffs in goals with eight, which also leads the team in that department. Additionally, a player they acquired just a couple of seasons ago is making the absolute best of his first career playoff run. That being former Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel, who leads the team with 16 points (six goals, ten assists) through 14 games. That point total is sixth in the playoffs. Furthermore, since returning from injury, their current captain Mark Stone has been on a tear, being second on the team and tied for seventh among all players with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) through 14 games.
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Defensively, they can be a pain to deal with. Three of their players are in the top 10 in blocked shots during the playoffs, those being Alec Martinez with 36, Alex Pietrangelo with 34, and Brayden McNabb with 31. In taking away the puck, Stone is second in the league in takeaways with 20 and William Karlsson is fifth with 16.
When it comes to goaltending, it is insane how head coach Bruce Cassidy has made it work all season long due to injuries. Laurent Brossoit was their man until he went down with an injury in Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers in the second round. Since then, it’s been Adin Hill’s net to lose, and he’s made the best of it. Since coming in relief, he’s started in seven games with six wins, including his first career playoff shutout in Game 3 against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final. Through all nine games played, he has a save percentage (SV%) of .938 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.07.
Analyzing the Panthers
The Panthers have made it look easy against some of the toughest teams in the NHL, becoming the fourth final seed in 23 years to get to the Final. As a result, they’ve shown that they won’t be pushovers against the Golden Knights.
They come into this series with a strong offense. They are led by the third-best goalscorer in the playoffs this season in forward Matthew Tkachuk, who currently has nine goals through 16 games, including a record-tying three overtime goals. This also includes their captain Aleksander Barkov, who is the franchise leader in playoff points with 35 (10 goals, 25 assists) and is easily one of the best two-way centers in the game. Furthermore, although he was quiet in the last series, Carter Verhaeghe leads the franchise all-time in goals with 14 and is looking to take a swig from Lord Stanley’s Cup again. In addition, their defense has also joined in on the fun with Brandon Montour, who has the most points by a defenseman in the playoffs in franchise history with 12 (six goals, six assists).
On the defensive side of the puck, they have also been hard to score against since beating the Bruins in the first round. In the grit department, they have shown they don’t mind getting their hands dirty with Radko Gudas and Sam Bennett both in the top five in hits. In the takeaways department, Barkov leads all players in stolen pucks with 21. The only issue could be blocked shots as only one player for Florida is in the top 10, that being Gustav Forsling.
For their man between the pipes, it seems that everyone cannot stop talking about goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Since coming in relief for Alex Lyon in Game 3 of the first round, he’s easily been the Conn Smythe favorite. Through 14 games played, he has 11 wins, a 2.21 GAA, .935 SV%, and his only career playoff shutout. In addition, he leads the league in goals saved above expected with 19.7.
Who’s Going to Grab Their First?
This is panning out to be an exciting Stanley Cup Final matchup. Both teams are from non-traditional hockey markets, both have won a conference title in the past and both are looking to bring home the Cup for the first time in their history.
However, the Panthers are a special case in which they’re an eighth seed, setting up for a Cinderella story. Regardless of how the season ends, they have something to be proud of. They proved all the doubters (myself included) wrong and went on a run for the ages. And now, starting June 3, they have a chance to etch new history in their books and bring the Cup to South Florida for the first time ever.