The Eastern Conference Final matchup is set as the Carolina Hurricanes will take on the Florida Panthers. For the Hurricanes, it will be their first appearance to the Conference Finals since 2018–19, a series in which the Boston Bruins swept them. But for the Panthers, this is the team’s deepest playoff run in nearly 30 years. Not since they made the Stanley Cup Finals in 1995–96 has Florida made it this far in the playoffs.
Despite being a top seed, the Hurricanes have had to fight through some adversity to get to where they are now. Injuries and perceived scoring troubles have been solved and fought through splendidly to a point where they are not an issue holding them back.
And who doesn’t love a good underdog story? The Panthers were a near-unanimous choice to lose in the first round if not get swept. But now, a month into the playoffs, the Panthers are still alive having taken out the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first two rounds.
Will the Hurricanes’ perceived issues catch up to them? Or can they keep them at bay and prove the critics wrong? And will the momentum behind the Panthers’ playoff run keep rolling through the Conference Final?
Playoff stats and head-to-head matchup
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Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for percentage (CF%) stats are in all situations from moneypuck.com.
Carolina Hurricanes Round 2 recap
One of the bigger challenges facing the Hurricanes heading into Round 2 against the New Jersey Devils was offensive depth and scoring concerns. The Hurricanes were one of the lowest-scoring teams to make it through the first round and they were missing two of their better offensive players in Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen. This was concerning as they went into the series against a team with Akira Schmid, who was possibly the best goalie in the league during the first round of the playoffs.
Carolina found a way to a way to adapt. They held the Devils to two goals or less in four out of five games. And with the help of a subsequent scoring explosion, a five-game stretch in which the Hurricanes averaged 4.8 goals per game, the Devils were easily eliminated.
Carolina knew what they had to do: shut down the best players of the Devils. And they passed that task with flying colours. With the exception of Game 3 in which New Jersey scored eight goals, Jack Hughes had four points in that third game and only had two points in the other four games. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt only had two points the entire series.
This is an area in which Carolina excels. They can control the pace of play like no other. And they showed just how good they are at that in this series.
Florida Panthers Round 2 recap
Once again, the Panthers found a way to take down one of the top teams in the league. They would have swept the Toronto Maple Leafs, were it not for a close 2–1 loss in Game 4.
Once again, Matthew Tkachuk was the leader of this team and he set the tone early. Playing his typical physical brand of hockey right from opening puck drop, he went after the star players of the Maple Leafs and swung early momentum into Florida’s favour. He finished the series with five assists, tied for the team lead in scoring with Aaron Ekblad.
The way the Panthers are playing right now matched up incredibly well against the Bruins and against the Maple Leafs. As shown by how absolutely invisible Florida was able to make the best players on Toronto seem to be in these five games. John Tavares was held to just one point, Auston Matthews had just two points (and no goals), and Mitch Marner had three points. William Nylander was the only member of the core forward group who both produced and looked like he was making an impact on the game.
After some rough stretches through the season, Sergei Bobrovsky had a stellar showing in this series. A 2.0 GAA and .943 SV% were huge factors in why the Panthers were able to shut down the offence of the Maple Leafs. And, his 9.3 goals saved above expected in all situations now leads goalies in these playoffs, according to Moneypuck.
A hot goalie is always a key contributor to success in the playoffs.
The Hurricanes will try to take control of this series early by controlling play like they always do. Early possession, setting the pace, and testing Bobrovsky often will be the key to the first part of the series for Carolina. If they can start strong and get the Panthers on their heels, the rest should fall right into place.
But that is dependent on if this scoring outburst lasts. If the Panthers can do a good job at holding Carolina’s chances to the outside and not giving up odd-man rushes, they should be able to rely on Bobrovsky for the rest. However, the Panthers tend to play a rush, high-speed game and may be prone to giving up breakaways or high quality chances against. With the speed possessed by some of the Hurricanes, this may be an area to exploit.
Once again, the Tkachuk factor will be important for determining the Panthers’ success. With 16 points in 12 games, he is a major factor offensively. But it is his style of play and energy that will be a bigger impact for Florida. Much like he did against Toronto, he will have to jump out of the gate in this series and prevent the Hurricanes from setting the tone. An aggressive forecheck to match Carolina and a ton of pressure on the puck carrier will swing things in Florida’s favour by preventing the Hurricanes from setting up their game.
With how the team is playing at the moment, Florida comes in as the underdog but they appear to have an advantage in some areas. Forward depth and goaltending swing in the Panthers’ favour. Carolina’s defence has always been a strong point for them, and still is in this matchup, but Florida’s defensive corps are playing extremely well.
The game within the game will be fun to watch in this series as Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is an incredibly talented and intelligent coach known for getting the most out of his players. His counterpart, Paul Maurice, is a great hockey mind who will be looking for any hole in Carolina’s game that he can exploit.
The duel between these two will be intriguing. Maurice will have the knowledge of how Carolina stifled the Devils to work off of so a quick adaptation on his part will be crucial.
Hurricanes versus Panthers prediction
At this point, is there any team the Panthers cannot beat? They are on a roll fueled by energy and momentum at the moment. With a mostly healthy roster, no expectations, and a driven group of players in the locker room, there is no reason why Florida won’t be able to take down another top seeded team.
4–3 Florida Panthers