With a win from the Golden Knights on Monday night, the 2023 Stanley Cup Finals are officially set. Las Vegas, who made their first appearance in their inaugural season, find themselves back and hope to win their first Stanley Cup.
Coming out of the East, the Florida Panthers look to continue their insane run and win their first ever Stanley Cup as well. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest storylines heading into this matchup.
Can Florida Continue Their Recent Playoff Success?
Before this playoff run, the Panthers have had virtually no playoff success. The team has never won the Stanley Cup before, and this year’s Eastern Conference championship is just the second in their franchise’s history. They won the President’s Cup in the 2021-22 season, yet were swept by Tampa Bay in the second round, scoring just three goals in four games.
This time around, things seemed to be looking just as bleak. The Cats barely scratched their way into the playoffs and faced a 3-1 series deficit against the Bruins, who came into the playoffs with the most successful regular season record in league history.
That didn’t matter to Florida, though. In thrilling fashion, they pulled off what could very well be the most shocking upset in NHL history, knocking off Boston. The Panthers rolled over Toronto and Carolina in the next two rounds to make it here. Will their success continue, or will their old playoff woes haunt them once more?
Will Vegas Finally Get Their Ring?
In 2017, the Knights leaped onto the NHL scene in their first year, making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. They weren’t able to pull it all the way off though, losing to the Capitals in five games.
Aside from last year, they’ve been a mainstay in the playoffs ever since. Still, there hasn’t been much success. They blew a 3-1 series lead, and a 3-0 game lead in game seven to the Sharks in the first round in 2019. Vegas lost in the Western Conference finals in the 2019-20 season, and then lost to the Canadiens in the altered 2021 playoffs.
The Knights didn’t make the playoffs at all in the 2021-22 season. They roared back into contention this year, though, and find themselves in their second Stanley Cup Finals. Will they be able to break the norm this year?
Which Former-Backup Goaltender Will Come Out on Top?
This Stanley Cup Finals will feature two goaltenders who are on an absolute tear at the moment. Adin Hill entered the season as the fourth goalie on the Knights depth chart, and is subsequently the fourth one used this postseason, as well. He took over in the second round against Edmonton, and has already surpassed expectations, helping lead Las Vegas into the final.
On the other side of the ice, we’ve witnessed one of the greatest postseason performances in recent memory from Sergei Bobrovsky. Like Hill, Bobrovsky entered the playoffs as a backup, but Sergei took over in the first round. The Russian keeper is 11-2 with a 2.21 goals against average throughout these playoffs, and has a .935 save percentage throughout this run. He’s been vital for Florida’s success, and has single-handedly kept them afloat throughout this miraculous run.
Stanley Cup X-Factors
One thing this Stanley Cup Finals is loaded with is talent. Aside from the aforementioned goaltenders, each team has several players who could be the difference between lifting the Stanley Cup and going home disappointed.
Starting in Vegas, it would be impossible to talk about this series without mentioning Jack Eichel. The former second-overall pick has quickly made himself at home in the desert, with 18 points throughout the team’s 17 playoff games. Las Vegas has spread the wealth around with virtually the entire roster contributing throughout these playoffs, and Eichel finds himself in the middle of it.
On the other bench, Matthew Tkachuk has continued his remarkable regular-season success. Tkachuk finished the season with a career-high 109 points, and now has 21 in 16 games, with several game winners in overtime throughout this run. It’s safe to say that without Tkachuk, the Panthers probably don’t find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals.
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