2023 Stanley Cup Playoff Previews: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Florida Panthers

The 2023 Stanley Cup Final matchup has been set! The Vegas Golden Knights are making their return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in franchise history after losing to the Washington Capitals in their first attempt in 2018. Their opponent, the Florida Panthers, are also making their second appearance in the Finals in franchise history. The last time they made it was all the way back in 1996 when they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.

After taking a commanding 3–0 series lead over the Dallas Stars, the Golden Knights finished things off with a huge 6–0 win in Game 6 as the whole lineup is contributing when they need to.

The Panthers have certainly been the biggest surprise of the postseason, possibly of the entire season, with their underdog run to the Cup Finals, recently having swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the third round. They’ve gotten hot and on a roll at the exact right time off of incredible performances from Matthew Tkachuk and Sergei Bobrovsky.

This matchup of two of the most exciting teams of the playoffs is sure to captivate fans and showcase hockey at its best. Will the Golden Knights’ forecheck be able to match that of the Panthers? And will the Cinderella story continue down in Florida?

Playoff stats and head-to-head matchup

TEAM/STATWLOTLGFxGF%GACF%PP%PK%Record vs. Opponent (regular season)
Vegas Golden Knights12416251.7%4546.9%18.5%63.0%0–1–2
Florida Panthers12405047.7%4347.3%27.9%71.2%3–0–0

Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for percentage (CF%) stats are in all situations from moneypuck.com.

Vegas Golden Knights Round 3 recap

This series was supposed to be pretty close. Two of the top teams in the West, both with fairly deep rosters and tons of scoring talent. But once again, Bruce Cassidy and the Golden Knights have outcoached and outplayed a challenging team.

The Stars have a plethora of talented offensive players. But like they did to the Oilers before them, Vegas was able to stifle Dallas’ 5v5 scoring and, for the most part, walk away from this series with very little difficulty.

Two of the games, three and six, were shutouts that Dallas had no chance at any point. Vegas completely dominated from the opening puck drop.

And in most of the other games, the general theme was Vegas having an amazing structure in the defensive zone that prevented the Stars from getting much in the way of high-danger chances. Looking specifically at Game 6, according to HockeyViz, the Stars only managed three shots from the slot. Most of their attempted offence came from the perimeter.

The depth of the Golden Knights shone through the series. Led by the likes of William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, every single skater on the team had a point in this series. And, they got sizable contributions from depth players like Keegan Kolesar and Ivan Barbashev.

Florida Panthers Round 3 recap

The Florida Panthers have gotten hot at just the right time. Led by the aforementioned Tkachuk and Bobrovsky, they easily dispatched the Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference Finals.

In the four game sweep, Tkachuk had the game-winning goal in three games. Including the game one marathon that ended in the fourth overtime. In total, he had four goals and five points in this series.

Bobrovsky is having one of the best postseasons in recent years thus far. In total, he leads the playoffs with 19.7 goals saved above expected in 14 games (according to Moneypuck). His numbers are impressive overall, but a .966 SV% and just six goals against in four games were key to the Panthers making quick work of the Hurricanes.

What has been a common criticism against the Hurricanes may have played a role in their defeat in this series. The quality of the shots they take. Despite regularly being at the top of the league in stats like expected goals and Corsi, Carolina takes a lot of low percentage shots. In fact, they led the league in low danger chances in the regular season and currently lead the league in the same stat in the playoffs as well, according to Moneypuck.

The Panthers were able to use this to their advantage. Bobrovsky being as hot as he is right now is well-equipped to stop these chances, with the help of a defence in front of him that is keeping the possibility of high danger chances to a minimum, and it is no wonder the Hurricanes were only able to score six goals in the series.

Stanley Cup Final preview

These two teams are bound to create an incredibly exciting series. Both teams play a fast-paced, exciting game that matches up incredibly well against each other. They focus on speed with aggressive forecheck, and play a high-pressure style that does not allow for much room for error on the part of their opponent.

Fresh off of a sweep in their Conference Final matchup, the Florida Panthers may find the early stages of the series difficult as they try to find game pace again. Though the Golden Knights will also have a four-day gap between games, the Panthers will be over a week between games. The rest factor is always something that always comes up when there is a gap between series’. And it often leans in favour of the team that did not have a huge gap between games.

In order to slow down the speed of the Panthers attack, the Golden Knights’ defence will need to continue playing their game. They are a big group that is playing extremely physical through these playoffs. That size and physicality will be crucial to slowing down Florida, clogging up passing and skating lanes, and keeping the front of the net clear as some, like Tkachuk, will try to wreak havoc in front of the net.

Vegas will have to find ways to test Bobrovsky: to create high-danger chances, to get him moving around the net, to try and find any weakness in his game. With how well he is playing right now, the Panthers have a lot of confidence starting from the back end, and this gives them the ability to play their game with swagger knowing that their goalie can make the big saves he needs to.

2023 Stanley Cup Final Prediction

In the past seven seasons, on three occasions, the team that won the President’s Trophy one season went on to win the Stanley Cup the following season: the Washington Capitals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Colorado Avalanche. The Florida Panthers are trying to add their name to this list. And with the hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the backbone of the team in Tkachuk, and everyone around contributing in valuable ways, the stage seems to be set for an underdog story for the ages.

4–2 Florida Panthers

Sean Laycock

Sean is a stubborn, lifelong Oilers fan who lives by the motto "There is always next year".

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