Friday, September 22 2023

Last year’s conference finals featured Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy. They’ve all been eliminated.

Last season’s Stanley Cup finalists, the defending champion Colorado Avalanche and the three-time conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning, were knocked out in the first round, as were the record-setting Boston Bruins.

All four teams are from the Sun Belt for the first time, shutting out some of the NHL’s biggest markets.

So what does that mean for the excitement level of the Stanley Cup Final? USA TODAY Sports ranks the four potential matchups, top to bottom.

The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate a January goal against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena.The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate a January goal against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena.

The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate a January goal against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena.

1. Vegas Golden Knights vs. Florida Panthers

Either team would be a first-time Stanley Cup winner, with the last such matchup occurring in 2018 when the Washington Capitals beat the first-year Golden Knights. If Vegas wins, it would become the fastest non-Original Six expansion team to win a championship. The Panthers are a good underdog story after upsetting the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. There is star power with Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov vs. Vegas’ Mark Stone and Jack Eichel. Plenty of top defensemen, too, with Florida’s Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad vs. Vegas’ Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore. Plus, Florida is responsible for the Golden Knights’ early success. Then-general manager Dale Tallon left Jonathan Marchessault unprotected in the expansion draft and traded Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Marchessault had a hat trick and Smith also scored in the Golden Knights’ Game 6 win vs. the Edmonton Oilers.

This is the matchup of the biggest TV markets (Carolina isn’t far behind), so TNT would like it. Dallas has a lot of name players (Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin), Roope Hintz is the playoffs’ top remaining scorer and defenseman Miro Heiskanen is fun to watch. Dallas’ Mason Marchment and Evgenii Dadonov used to play for Florida. Plus there’s the Peter DeBoer factor. He’s currently facing the team (Vegas) that fired him during the offseason in the Western Conference final. He began his coaching career in Florida, missing the playoffs three times before establishing himself elsewhere. He’d have a chance to win his first Stanley Cup after two previous trips to the final. Just like with Vegas-Florida, the winning coach would be in his first season with the team.

This could be the most competitive series. They’re the top remaining teams in playoff scoring and five-on-five play. Their power plays are about even, as are the save percentages for Vegas goaltender Adin Hill and Carolina’s Frederik Andersen. The big advantage goes to Carolina in penalty kill (90% vs. 60%). Though Vegas won the season series 2-0, this has the feel of a series that could go seven games. A knock on the series is that Carolina’s most exciting player, Andrei Svechnikov, is on the sidelines with an injury.

4. Carolina Hurricanes vs. Dallas Stars

The winner would be a repeat champion, though it has been a while. Carolina last won in 2006 and Dallas won in 1999. Max Domi wasn’t much of a factor when the Hurricanes acquired him last season at the deadline, getting six points in 14 playoff games. Now he has 11 points in 13 games with Dallas. Both of their regular-season games went to overtime, meaning games could be close.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoffs bracket: Ranking potential Stanley Cup Final matchups

Source: Yahoo Sports


The Heat are battle tested enough to cover in Game 1 vs. Celtics, plus other best bets for Wednesday


How many games is Victor Wembanyama worth toward the Spurs' win total?

Check Also

Pro Sports Media

Trending Now

‘Give him his damn respect’: A Joker always trumps a King

LOS ANGELES — LeBron James pleaded for a call, while Nikola Jokić raised his weary arms in victory — no matter the game, the Joker trumps a King, even if the King gets off to a rousing start. The Denver Nuggets advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, completing what […]

Read More