After completing 14 series matchups, there remains a final round of NHL playoff hockey. Adam Proteau shares his projections for the Stanley Cup championship.
The forthcoming 2022-23 Stanley Cup final is scheduled to commence on Saturday in Las Vegas, where the home team, the Golden Knights, will face off against the Florida Panthers. Both squads encountered difficulties during the regular season, but they reached their peak at precisely the right moment and eliminated highly skilled opponents on their path to the final.
(Regarding our previous forecasts: having gone 6-6 in the initial two rounds, our predictions for the Conference finals were less than ideal, as we anticipated the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes to reach the Cup final. Nevertheless, that won’t deter us from attempting an informed guess once again for the Panthers/Golden Knights series.)
Why the Golden Knights may emerge victorious: Prior to the NHL All-Star break at the start of February, the Golden Knights displayed rather average performance with a record of 29-18-4. They had just suffered eight defeats in their previous ten games, including six losses in regulation time. However, something changed when they returned to action on February 7th, as Vegas achieved five consecutive victories and proceeded to attain a 22-4-5 record for the remainder of the season. During this period, they only endured back-to-back losses twice, and on both occasions, the losing streak never exceeded two games in a row.
In summary, the Golden Knights have been performing at their best for nearly four months now, and there is no significant reason why this trend cannot continue. Although it is true that they had a comparatively easier path to the Cup final compared to Florida, credit must be given to their speed, precision, and consistent ability to overpower the opposition.
Why the Panthers could secure victory: We must honestly admit that we did not favor Florida in any of their first three rounds, which leads us to not choose them (spoiler alert) as the winners of the Cup final. However, that does not imply that we cannot see the Panthers emerging triumphant. We certainly can.
They have been a physical, fast-paced, and well-balanced playoff team—each of their top two forward lines has produced 38 points in 16 postseason games. Coach Paul Maurice has maintained an aggressive forecheck and fostered a sense of opportunism in the offensive zone.
Sergei Bobrovsky, the starting goalie for Florida, has played a vital role in keeping the Panthers competitive this postseason. If Florida wishes to fend off the relentless puck possession by Vegas in the offensive zone, they will heavily rely on Bobrovsky to continue making a difference. Matthew Tkachuk’s positive impact on the series is also crucial in providing the Panthers the necessary edge for success. Should they receive above-average contributions from key areas, they have the potential to be the last team standing and secure their franchise’s first-ever Cup.
Both the Golden Knights and Panthers have been exhibiting playoff-caliber hockey for several months.
The Panthers needed to consistently perform above average during the final three months of the season merely to secure a playoff spot. Meanwhile, Vegas had to rise above the competition in the Pacific Division to earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Now, as we enter the final series of the season, it is evident that both the Golden Knights and Panthers will give it their all, fighting to win four out of the next seven games.In the end, we have chosen Vegas due to our preference for their defensive unit over Florida’s, as well as the excellent fit of Bruce Cassidy behind the Golden Knights’ bench. Vegas allocates substantial ice time to their top six defensemen, with each playing at least 18