As in 2018, the Stanley Cup final pits two franchises against each other in search of the first coronation in their history. Defeated by Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals at the final stage five years ago, the Vegas Golden Knights this time come up against the Florida Panthers whose journey in these 2023 play-offs inspires respect.
Vegas has the ice advantage in a series whose Act I is scheduled for Saturday, thanks to 111 points won in the regular season (1st in the West). Florida had only 92 points, clinching the last wild card in the East with one point more than Pittsburgh and Buffalo. But the Panthers remain on eight away wins.
The Panthers have also delivered remarkable play-offs. They first overthrew the best team of the regular season, the impressive Boston Bruins (65 wins, 135 points), after being down 3-1 in the series. They forced the decision in overtime in Act VII where Boston had conceded the equalizer 60 seconds from the end of regulation time.
Euphoric, Florida then flew over the debates both against Toronto (4-1) and against Carolina (4-0 in the Conference final). Thanks above all to two men: American striker Matthew Tkachuk, author of three “game winning goals” – including two in “overtime” – against Carolina – and goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky (93.5% saves in 14 matches disputed in these play-offs).
Two luxury « substitutes »
Not starting at the start of the play-offs, the Russian goalkeeper took the place of Alex Lyon in front of the net after match 3 against Boston, to finally prove decisive in the final series at 34 years old. His vis-à-vis Adin Hill (27) also experienced the same situation, taking advantage of Laurent Broissot’s injury in game 2 of the 2nd round against Edmonton (4-2 in the series) .
Adin Hill also shone for his first steps in the play-off: the Canadian posted 93.7% saves in 11 appearances, with two shutouts (both in the Conference final against Dallas). But it is especially in attack that the Golden Knights impress with 65 goals scored in 17 matches, including 10 for William Karlsson and 9 for Jonathan Marchessault.
The Swede and the Canadian are two of the six « survivors » of the team that reached the final during the Golden Knights’ inaugural season (in 2017/18, with Zugois Luca Sbisa in their ranks). Their thirst for revenge is unparalleled in the Florida camp: the Panthers’ only previous final dates back to 1996. Florida then lost 4-0 to Patrick Roy’s Avalanche.
Tkachuk future MVP?
The Panthers nevertheless had a lot to be forgiven for when it came to this 2022/23 season. Best team in the league in the 2021/22 regular championship, they were then swept 4-0 by Tampa Bay in the 2nd round of the play-offs after winning in the 1st round against Washington their first series since … 1996.
The arrival of Matthew Tkachuk changed everything. Hired in July 2022 as part of a “blockbuster trade” with Calgary, the 25-year-old winger scored 109 points in the regular season and is at 21 (9 goals, 12 assists) in these series. He and Sergei Bobrovsky are currently the favorites for the title of MVP of these play-offs. But the Golden Knights have the means to force the decision collectively.