If you turn the calendar back a year - to spring 2022 - there will be an Eastern Conference final between these twoFlorida panthersICarolina Hurricaneswouldn't qualify so much.
The Panthers ruled this yearNHLWinner of the "Presidents" trophy after top league record - 58 wins, 122 points. The Hurricanes weren't far behind - they sit third overall with 54 wins and 116 points. (The team was sandwiched between them,Colorado-Avalanche, eventually winning the Stanley Cup a year ago.)
This year was obviously very different, especially for the Panthers, who barely made it to the playoffs. With a total of 92 points, had they played in the Western Conference, they would have remained outside the top 16. But so far, they've managed to create a unique playoff run by defeating the regular season championBoston Bruinsiin the first round and thenMaple leaves from Torontoin the second round. What is the old saying? If this is your week, could this be your year? Maybe the Panthers will rebound at 11 o'clock like they didLouis Blueshe did it a few years ago, right into the winner's circle. At the moment, two series less, two more.
Karolina, on the other hand, flew under the radar as much as possible in the postseason. you threw it awayNew York Islandersin the first round iNew Jersey Devilsthe last one; easier route to round three than Florida. And since both teams got the job done relatively quickly, they'll have a valuable rest before the Conference Finals kicks off.
In the west, it took longer to sort out the fighters.VegasoffConnora McDavidaand flying highOilmen from Edmontonin six games duringDallas Starshe went all the way before winning his sophomore yearKraken z Seattleat seven.
Thankfully, the NHL took its time to kick off the Vegas-Dallas series until Friday, giving both teams a chance to catch their breath together before the start of the third round. After delving into their emotional wells to level up, the key will be figuring out which team will be the first to reset and get their adrenaline pumping again. In the third round, fatigue often becomes a silent factor - making it all the more important to get out of the gate quickly.
Once again, we've reorganized our panel of seasoned Directors, Coaches, and Scouts to look into their crystal balls and predict what's coming next. Here's what they had to say.
Hurricanes vs Panthers
Paul Maurice, Panthers freshman coach, previously coached the Hurricanes twice—the first seven years in franchise history in Carolina after moving from Hartford in 1997, then again in early 2008 after two years off the Leafs bench, where he stayed for three more years before the return of the exemption. He and current Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour rank first and second in coaching history (384 for Maurice, 226 for Brind'Amour). The series also covers Staal's family reunion - Eric andMark CelikHe plays for the Panthers and Jordan is the captain of the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have the best playoff penalty kill unit by far with a 90 percent success rate, while Florida only has 65.8 percent. Special teams will of course play a role.
Despite the fact that Karolina goes forward without itAndrew SwetschnikovITeuvo as Teravaine, two top-six forwards, averages a respectable 3.64 goals per game in these playoffs, placing him a solid fourth overall and just behind Dallas and Edmonton.
Their attack is even - Sebastien Aho iJesper BrziThe shooters share the lead with five players. As always, the key to their success is a top four finish on the blue lane: TimelessBrenta Burnsa, skillfully addedYakov Slavin,Bretta Pesce'aIBrady Schei.
The duel of goalkeepers is fascinating. The panthers rodeAlex LyonHis strong performances made it to the playoffs, but when he failed in the first round, they went to the $10 million manSergei Bobrovsky, who again played as a two-time Vezino Trophy winner. If Bobrovsky can stay in the zone, he can make a difference. Similarly, the Hurricanes started the playoffs with a nominal boost,Antti Raanta, but later switched to Freddie Andersen.
Bobrovsky is 7-2 with a 0.918 save percentage and a 2.82 ERA. Andersen has a 5-0 record with a savings percentage of 0.931 and a GAA of 1.80. They both play great. Both can also flash at any time.
With Karolina's goalie, who knows?" our scout asked. “The first is Freddie, but they used all three in the playoffs. I think it's Caroline's way. They pull strikers and goalkeepers out of their hats and seem to find a way to win. That's what they do. But I choose Florida. It's a tough choice, but I didn't pick them in the first two rounds and they won, so I'm going with them now. I like her determination. Their determination really shows in the first two rounds. They look like a playoff team. It was a good fight against Toronto, the last two games - and they were in it. You won those battles.Mateusz Tkaczukhe's clearly their leader, and Bob is in good shape - but that's been his career. He had streaks - long streaks - when he was giving it his all and looking really good against Toronto. He looked like a Vezin Trophy winner in that series.
Mateusz Tkachuk. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today)
But the other two panelists chose the Hurricane.
"Did Florida lose its sparkle or fairy dust after this long hiatus?" our coach wondered. "They've been in the playoffs longer than anyone else because they had to play playoff hockey for two months to get in. Now you have to restart the whole thing. So far it has been: "Play, day off, travel, play, carry on." Now they had a little break. I'd love to know what effect this has on them. The Hurricanes are arguably the strongest remaining team to check out. If the Florida defense can handle this pre-test and the goaltender continues to play well, I think it's a coin toss but I'll go with Carolina for 7.
Not surprisingly, our manager focused on two team-building strategies and praised Florida for two things: the difference the Tkachuk trade made to Florida's psyche and the way the Panthers' initial six-man defense was built.
"The Florida defense consists of two defense attorneys who were released and three who were acquired as unrestricted free agents," noted our CEO. “In other words, any other team in the NHL could have five of Florida's six defensemen.Brandon Montourahe is their leader and after two rounds is Conn Smythe's candidate. Tkachuk is the player Bill Zito stoleCalgary flames. Not only did he score 16 points in 12 games, but both Boston and Toronto spent a lot of time thinking about what he did or said. He is the perfect playoff player who will get under the skin of the opposing team at some point. Karolina needs to make sure that doesn't happen this round. The team that wins this round is the one with the most consistent goalkeeping record. It's going to be a long streak, but if Freddie finds a way to keep going, Karolina will win at home in seven games.
executive: Karolina o 7
Coach: Karolina o 7
Examine: Florida I'm 6 years old
agreement: The Hurricanes are making progress
Golden knights vs stars
Apparently, the dominant storyline in the Golden Knights-Stars series takes place behind the bench, where Dallas coach Peter DeBoer takes on the Las Vegas team that fired him exactly a year ago.
Our coach believes that DeBoer's previous experience coaching the Gold Knights will give him an edge in the series as he will have insight into the strengths and weaknesses of many Vegas players.
"That's what motivates Pete," our trainer said. “He'll know where the cracks in the armor might be and what might work on them. It's a good combination. I have to go from Dallas just because of the bouncer (Jake'a Oettingera). I don't know where Vegas will go if (Adin) Hill suddenly goes cold. DownJonathan Quick?“
Meanwhile, our manager predicted "a great streak between two very talented offensive hockey teams," noting that from the Golden Knights' magic run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, No. 1 -Jonathan Marchessault,Reilly'ego Smithaand William Karlson all made important contributions to the win over Edmonton: Marchessault and Smith scored in the deciding game, and Karlsson for his tenacious defense against Oilers star Connor McDavid.
“There was also a party this yearJacka Eichelaour manager said. "It's not just six goals and 14 points in 11 games. He became the first team player that people didn't know could become. And, of course,Mark Stoneis it this seasonNikita KucherovLubPatrick Kane, two stars who missed most of the regular season but miraculously recovered as the playoffs began. His leadership, both on and off the ice, is the main reason Vegas is where they are.
As for Dallas, our manager said the Stars "have the best goaltender in Jake Oettinger, the best defenseman."Miro Heiskanenaand the best remaining strikerRoope Hintzand noted that they beat the Kraken run despite not scoring from a man who scored 46 goalsJason Robertson.
Both our manager and trainer noticed itJoseph Pawelskiinfluence on the stars.
For me, it's the Pavelski factor - said our coach. “He mixes drinks there. He hasn't won yet. I am 38 years old. There is energy in it. When you're at this stage of the playoffs, you're always looking for energy. Pavelski's return to Dallas in the second round after a first-round injury energized them.
"And I'm not worried about Robertson," he added. “He does a lot of good things for them as a team. He puts the pucks behind the defense. He's more likely to play a full team match even if he doesn't score. And it's not like he doesn't stand a chance. They just don't come in or the keeper defends hard. He could have scored twice against Seattle in Game 7. Both are likely to go into the regular season. From a coach's perspective, I see a player who gets a chance and it's only a matter of time before he breaks through. Pete took advantage of this late in the game to defend his lead. That tells you there is no cheating in his game."
Our manager is also optimistic about Heiskanen, whom he sees as 'the'.Chale Makarthis year's playoffs.Ryana Suterawas very good and complemented Heiskanen well. And although Oettinger has a poor game from time to time, he becomes one of the best in the NHL at the big moment when things are down and Dallas needs a big defense or game. All else being equal, Oettinger will be the better goalkeeper and will make the difference.
But here we have an ambiguous decision as our scout picked Vegas, noting that Oettinger's performance in these playoffs was not as consistent as a year ago. He also believes Hill, the current starter in Vegas, is good enough to get the job done based on playing defense against him.
Nothing really bothers Hill, our scout said. "He's sick when he concedes a goal. He's a hard working kid and he was very good against Edmonton; and really, he got her one last game. In this team, behind this defense, he is more than capable. He was more consistent than Oettinger, who had his ups and downs in the playoffs.
Vegas was easier to beat Edmonton than Dallas when they beat Seattle - and I think Edmonton is a much better team than Seattle. I like the Vegas game. They have a great defense from Hill and a strong team, similar to Seattle, except they also have a star player: Jack Eichel. Mark Stein.Alex Pietrangelo. Both series are a tough choice, but I choose Vegas at age 7."
executive: Dallas u 6
Coach: Dallas u 6
Examine: Vegas u 7
agreement: The stars are approaching
(Photo of Jake Oettinger fighting Jack Eichel: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)