Monday, October 2 2023

2023 Stanley Cup Final: Bruins fans’ guide to Panthers vs. Golden Knights originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

For the first time since 2018, the Stanley Cup Final features two teams that have never won a championship.

One of those teams from that 2018 series, the Vegas Golden Knights, are back in the Cup Final after losing in five games to the Washington Capitals five years ago. Vegas reaching this stage isn’t a surprise at all. This franchise has been in the NHL for just six seasons but has advanced to the Western Conference Final or further four times. The Golden Knights also finished with the best record (51-22-9) in the Western Conference during the regular season.

Panthers’ run to Stanley Cup Final makes Bruins’ loss even more painful

Their opponent, the Florida Panthers, were not expected to be remotely close to the Cup Final. The Panthers didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the final week of the regular season and got in by a single point. They upset the record-breaking, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in the first round despite trailing 3-1 in that series. Since losing Game 4 to the Bruins, the Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 games. It took them just five games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round, and then they swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

It’s been a truly remarkable run for the Panthers, who beat the top three teams in the East to reach the Cup Final for the first time since 1996.

Here’s what Bruins fans should know entering the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Game 1 is Saturday night in Vegas.


First time for everything

As noted above, one of these teams will win the Stanley Cup for the first time. It’s just the seventh Cup Final series in playoff history involving that kind of scenario and just the third this century.

Here’s the full list of those particular series (winner in italics):

  • 2023: Panthers vs. Golden Knights

  • 2018: Capitals vs. Golden Knights

  • 2007: Ducks vs. Senators

  • 1999: Stars vs. Sabres

  • 1996: Avalanche vs. Panthers

  • 1991: Penguins vs. North Stars (now Dallas Stars)

  • 1934: Blackhawks vs. Red Wings

If the Golden Knights lose this series, they will join the Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars as the only teams in the 21st century with multiple Cup Final defeats.


Another No. 8 seed title winner?


The NHL hasn’t used traditional No. 1 to No. 8 seeding since the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but as the second wild card team in the East, the Panthers are the equivalent of a No. 8 seed.

The only No. 8 seed (or equivalent) ever to win the Stanley Cup was the 2012 Los Angeles Kings. They went 12-2 in the Western Conference playoffs before eliminating the Devils in Game 6 of the Cup Final. Only two other teams that were lower than a No. 4 seed have won the Stanley Cup. The 1980 New York Islanders and 1995 New Jersey Devils both won as No. 5 seeds.


Since the league started its Eastern and Western Conference alignment in the 1993-94 season, seven teams have made the Stanley Cup Final as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed. The most recent example is the 2017 Nashville Predators, who were the second wild card team in the Western Conference and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Cup Final. The 2012 Kings are the only team in this group that won a title.

History is stacked against the Panthers, but it would be foolish to dismiss them given how dominant they have played to this point.

Local connections

The biggest local star in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final is Jack Eichel. The North Chelmsford, Mass., native and former Boston University standout is making his first Cup Final appearance since being drafted in 2015. Eichel has tallied 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 17 games for the Golden Knights during the playoffs.


He’s not the only Hockey East alum in this series, though.

Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour (UMass Amherst), defenseman Casey Fitzgerald (Boston College) and forward Ryan Lomberg (Maine), as well as Golden Knights goalie Jonathan Quick (UMass Amherst), all played in Hockey East.

Panthers forward Colin White is from Hanover, Mass.

Former Bruins players in this series

The Panthers roster has zero players who have appeared in a regular season or playoff game for the Bruins. There are two such players on the Golden Knights roster — Phil Kessel and Reilly Smith.

Kessel, who was drafted No. 5 overall by the Bruins in 2006, is a role player at this point in his career, and he’s had trouble cracking the lineup in the playoffs. He has been a healthy scratch since Game 5 of the first round against the Winnipeg Jets. Kessel was one of only three Golden Knights players who appeared in all 82 regular season games. He is a two-time Stanley Cup winner (2016 and 2017 Penguins), so his experience could prove valuable in this series if he gets an opportunity to play.


The other ex-Bruin in Vegas is Reilly Smith. The veteran forward played in Boston during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns. He was traded to the Panthers in July of 2015. The Golden Knights acquired him from the Panthers in a pre-expansion draft trade in 2017. Smith has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in Vegas’ 17 playoff games so far.

Bruce Cassidy has another shot at glory


The Bruins fired Cassidy after a Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2022 playoffs. Almost a year later, Cassidy has the Golden Knights on the brink of a championship.

Cassidy is making his second Stanley Cup Final appearance. His first came with the Bruins in 2019 against the St. Louis Blues. The B’s lost in Game 7 at home — their third loss in four games at TD Garden in the series. It was a crushing defeat for Cassidy, but he now has another chance to finish the job.


“It’s an honor and a privilege to coach in the NHL for any team. For me, it happens to be with the Golden Knights,” Cassidy told reporters after Vegas clinched the Western Conference title Monday night. “We were looking at it as a family as a new adventure for us, and here we are going to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s what you want, but so do 31 other teams, right? Only two get to go there. It feels great right now. I think as a coach you’ll enjoy it for a bit and then it’s right back to work.

“I’ve been there once and it didn’t work out — lost in Game 7. So you know there’s a lot of work ahead, but I do believe you have to enjoy these moments, it’s not easy to do.”

Playoff MVP favorites



The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the playoff MVP. Unlike the NBA Finals MVP, the Conn Smythe Trophy takes into account all four rounds of the playoffs, so it’s not always awarded to the best player in the Stanley Cup Final.

Here are the players with the best odds to win the Conn Smythe, per BetMGM.

It would be absolutely shocking if the Panthers won the Stanley Cup and a player not named Bobrovsky or Tkachuk was voted the Conn Smythe winner. These two players have carried Florida to this point. Tkachuk, in particular, is most deserving. He has tallied 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 16 games, which ranks No. 2 among all playoff scorers. Three of his nine goals have been scored in overtime.


Tkachuk was incredibly clutch during the Eastern Conference Final when he scored or assisted on the winning goal in each of Florida’s four victories.

Bobrovsky was a little shaky against the Bruins in the first round and allowed three or more goals in four games. But since the beginning of the second round, the veteran goalie has allowed fewer than three goals in eight of his last nine games. Bobrovsky will have a strong chance to win the Conn Smythe if he neutralizes the high-powered Golden Knights offense.

Vegas’ pool of candidates is a little larger, with Eichel being the favorite as the team’s leading postseason scorer. But the door is open for someone like Marchessault or Karlsson to climb the list of most deserving players.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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