Stanley Cup Final preview


Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo skates with the puck against Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg.

The Vegas Golden Knights will be playing the Florida Panthers in the 2023 Stanley Cup Finals. Neither team has ever won the trophy, but have each made it to the finals once (Vegas losing to Washington in five games in 2018 and Florida getting swept by Colorado in 1996). Both teams are on a roll with Florida going 12-4 this postseason and Vegas going 12-5. Here is a preview of the series. 

The Florida Panthers have had an interesting season to say the least. After winning the President’s trophy last season (best team during regular season), they had a rocky year. They struggled early on and were only in a playoff spot for 28% of the season. They only got into the postseason by virtue of a Pittsburgh Penguins loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on the second to last day of the season. They came into the playoffs with almost no expectations against the best team in NHL history, the Boston Bruins. And things seemed to look that way after going down three games to one. But they mounted a comeback. Led by head coach Paul Maurice and star forward Matthew Tkachuk, each in their first year with the team, they went on a 11-1 run to make it to the finals. Tkachuk leads the entire league with 21 playoff points, the most in a single postseason in team history and the third most career playoff points in team history. His swagger, grit, leadership abilities, and clutch performances have motivated the team. He scored the game winning goal in three of the four games against Carolina in the conference finals while assisting on the other one. His game one goal came in fourth overtime and his game four goal, the one that sent them to the Stanley Cup Finals, came with just 4.9 seconds left in the third period. 

“I think Tkachuk will win the Conn Smythe Trophy,” said sixth grade math teacher Ryan Belline. The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the most valuable player of the playoffs.

Another reason is goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Since coming over at the start of the 2019-20 season on a seven year, $70 million contract, he has underperformed and been a big disappointment. But the two-time Vezina Trophy winner(best goalie in NHL) has lived up to his billing over the past month and a half. After backup Alex Lyon started the first three games against Boston, Bobrovsky took over the rest of the way, going 11-2 with a 9.35 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average. He has made several huge saves and has been the backbone of the team. Aside from those two, captain Aleksander Barkov, who is recognized as one of the best defensive forwards in the league, has 14 points. General Manager Bill Zito, who is a finalist this year for the second consecutive season for the Jim MGregory General Manager of the Year Award, has done a terrific job in his three years with the team. Nearly every player on the roster has been traded for, drafted, claimed off of waivers, or signed as a free agent under Zito. Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart have each come over in trades and each have 11 points. Carter Verhaeghe came over in a trade and has 15 points while Anthony Duclair and Brandon Montour each have nine. They play a tough aggressive style with lots of energy. They will rely on their top guys more than Vegas and other teams in the postseason.

“Maybe some teams feel the heat in these high-pressure situations, but we don’t really feel that way,” Tkachuk said. “We’re having fun. No one expected us to be here.”

The Vegas Golden Knights started out the year as the best team in the western conference through the first month and a half. Even though they slowed down a little bit and teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers caught up, they finished at the top of the conference. They are in their second finals in franchise history (loss to the Washington Capitals in five games in 2018, their first season). First year head coach Bruce Cassidy has done a tremendous job with the club, fixing the holes that plagued them last season, when they missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Jack Eichel, who is in his first career postseason and first full year with the team, has been terrific. He leads the team with 12 assists and 18 points. Ivan Barbashev and Mark Stone each have six goals, nine assists, and 16 points. Chandler Stephenson has 14 points and Alex Pietrangelo leads the defenseman with nine points. The “Original misfits” continue to drive them. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith have been together since the team’s inception. After being castoffs on previous teams, they have been the driving force behind this team’s success. They made up their top line in their first year, helping lead them to the finals. In the playoffs, they have all come up big, especially in the conference finals against the Dallas Stars. Karlsson leads the team with ten goals while Marchessault is second in points with 17. Smith has 11 points. All three have had an exciting postseason, but it has been especially eventful for Karlsson. He and his wife Emily Furguson gave birth to their first child, a boy in May. 

“I like playing this time of year,” Marchessault said. “Regular season, yeah, it’s fun, but it’s like more of a routine. The passion is there, and the want to score goals is there. But in the playoffs, it’s another animal. That’s what fuels me.”

Adin Hill has been good in goal. Laurent Brossoit started the playoffs but was injured in game three against Edmonton and has been out since. Hill has been solid, using his big size and flexibility to beat east west plays. He can read the play well and was able to outduel Jake Oettinger in the conference finals. 

“I think Vegas will win,” sixth grader Sydney Espina. Eighth grader Jack Hantman agreed saying that Vegas will win as well. Seventh grader Simon Walsh disagreed. “Florida” he says will win the series. 

There are a few storylines going into the series. For the seventh time in league history, it is guaranteed there will be a first time winner. It is also the seventh time that the two head coaches are in their first year with their respective teams. Panthers forward Eric Staal can also make history. He won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. With a win, he can break the record for the longest amount of time between Cup wins with 17 years. The current record is 16 by Chris Chelios (1986-2002).

The series will begin on Saturday, June 3 in Las Vegas. Game two is June fifth, game three is June 8, game four is June 10, game five is June 13, game six is June 16, and game seven is June 19. Games one, two, five, and seven are at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas while the other three games will be played at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida(just outside of Fort Lauderdale). All games will be on TNT and TBS and begin at 8:00 Eastern standard time.