The 2023 Stanley Cup Finals begin Saturday night as the Florida Panthers meet the Vegas Golden Knights in Las Vegas.
The Panthers won the Eastern Conference as the eighth seed, upsetting the record-setting Boston Bruins in the first round before eliminating the Toronto Maple Leafs and sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“You’ve earned something if you’re playing in the Final[s],” head coach Paul Maurice told the media on Wednesday. “You’ve done it now at a very high level for six weeks. In our case, we had to start running that back in January. We’ve played hard hockey for six weeks, so we have some confidence that we’re going to be able to do that again.”
Florida is making its first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since being swept by the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and its second appearance overall.
Forward Matthew Tkachuk and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky have led the Panthers throughout the playoffs. Tkachuk is second in the NHL playoffs in points with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists), trailing only Dallas’ Roope Hintz, while Bobrovsky is 11-2, allowing 2.21 goals and making saves at the third-best rate in the league.
Tkachuk is the leading scorer, but Florida has four others (Carter Verhaeghe, Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, and Sam Bennett) with at least 11 points in at least 15 games played this postseason.
The Golden Knights won the Western Conference in the regular season with a team-record 111 points and made quick work of the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. They went on to beat the Edmonton Oilers in six games and eliminated the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Finals.
Vegas is making its second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in its sixth season as a franchise. The Golden Knights lost to the Washington Capitals in five games in the 2018 Finals to end their first season.
The Golden Knights have been stellar offensively throughout the playoffs, scoring at least four goals in 11 of their 17 playoff games. In contrast, Florida has only accomplished that four times.
Jack Eichel leads Vegas with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) during their current playoff run. Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson are among the top five goal-scorers in the league this postseason, and four other Golden Knights players are among the top 12 in points.
As good as Bobrovsky has been for Florida, Vegas’ Adin Hill has been better. While he does not have as many wins, Hill is second in save percentage and is allowing just 2.07 goals per game.
While the regular season was a different story for each team, both have put up similar numbers this postseason, adding intrigue to the season’s final series.
Whoever wins will be a first-time winner of the Stanley Cup.
Game 1 begins at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.