PHR Playoff Primer: Florida Panthers vs Vegas Golden Knights


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May 05, 2023

PHR Playoff Primer: Florida Panthers vs Vegas Golden Knights

June 3, 2023 at 5:16 pm CDT | by Brennan McClain 5 Comments With the 2023

June 3, 2023 at 5:16 pm CDT | by Brennan McClain 5 Comments

With the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs now underway, PHR makes its first foray into playoff series analysis with our 2023 Playoff Primers. Where does each team stand in their series, and what storylines could dominate on and off the ice? Our Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage concludes with the Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights.

Before the 2023 Stanley Cup Finals get underway, we know that one franchise will win its first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The last time this was true was back in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, as the Washington Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

For the Golden Knights, this will be their second Cup Final in six years, already becoming one of the most successful expansion franchises in the history of the league. Going on a Cinderella run for seemingly the entire year of their inception, the current iteration of the team has much more star talent than their last Finals appearance.

The Florida Panthers, a year removed from winning the President's Trophy as the top regular season team, have mirrored the Golden Knights’ Cinderella run from six years ago. The last team to find a spot in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Panthers knocked off this year's President's Trophy winner, the Boston Bruins, followed up by knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes.

Vegas: 51-22-9, 111 points, +43 goal differentialFlorida: 42-32-8, 92 points, +17 goal differential

January 12, 2023: Vegas 4, Florida 2March 7, 2023: Florida 2, Vegas 1

Season series tied 1-1-0

In terms of offense, there are names that stick out immediately for both teams: Matthew Tkachuk for the Panthers, and Jack Eichel for Vegas. In 16 games for Tkachuk, the new pride of Florida has scored nine goals and 12 assists, including a whopping four game-winners. Already having four years of playoff experience under his belt with the Calgary Flames, this has been far and above Tkachuk's best performance after the regular season.

Unlike Tkachuk, getting his first taste of NHL playoff action after many years spent with the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres, Eichel has shown exactly why he would have been a first-overall selection in any draft not featuring Connor McDavid. In 17 games played this postseason, Eichel has scored six goals and 12 assists, showing incredible prowess on Vegas’ powerplay.

Aside from their primary offensive weapon in Tkachuk, Florida has four other players that have scored over 10 points in this year's playoffs, including Carter Verhaeghe, Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, and Sam Bennett. Vegas, on the other hand, has a total of six players that have scored over 10 points, including Jonathan Marchessault, Ivan Barbashev, Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, and Reilly Smith.

On defense, Florida's primary defenseman in this year's playoffs, and throughout much of the year has been Brandon Montour. Having a complete breakout year in the regular season, scoring 73 points in 80 games, Montour has kept up his excellent play throughout the playoffs. In 16 games, he's scored six goals and three assists while averaging almost 28 minutes a night for the Panthers. If having a defenseman of Montour's status wasn't good enough, Florida also has the first-overall selection of the 2014 NHL Draft, Aaron Ekblad, in the midst, also carrying the ability to make big plays and eat steady minutes on the back end.

Clearly the best defenseman in Vegas, and arguably the top defenseman in this year's playoffs, is Alex Pietrangelo. Although receiving a one-game suspension after slashing Edmonton Oilers’ all-star Leon Draisaitl, Pietrangelo has scored nine points in 16 games, averaging around 24 minutes a night for the Golden Knights. Carrying a rating of +8 up to this point, Pietrangelo has also been a fantastic powerplay quarterback for Vegas.

In net, as much as fans might think there is a larger separation between the two in terms of name recognition, both Sergei Bobrovsky and Adin Hill are playing some of the best goaltending of their individual careers. In 14 games for Bobrovsky, he has managed an 11-2-0 record, carrying a .935 SV% and a 2.21 GAA. Surprisingly, posting slightly better numbers than Bobrovsky, Hill has a 7-3-0 record in 11 games played, posting a .937 SV% and a 2.07 GAA.

An often-used trope is especially good when it's true, and in terms of this series, it could go either way. Both team's are leaning on their star players for scoring, but are also receiving plenty of depth scoring as well. Both teams have minute-munching defensemen that can lead on both sides of the puck, and both teams have goaltenders that are playing superbly between the pipes.

Although it's difficult to find any separation between these two teams, the one big distinction would be the goal differential, where Vegas holds a +10 advantage over the Panthers in that category. However, goal differential or not, the Panthers also hold a very slight advantage in winning percentage. Vegas was able to shut down McDavid, Draisaitl, and Roope Hintz, while Florida was table to silence Sebastian Aho, Mitch Marner, and David Pastrnak.

In the end, much like we’ve seen in past Stanley Cup Finals, the hockey gods will always have their way, and the more they win, the more it seems fate is on the side of the Panthers this year. Tkachuk has held the weight of his performance, and as the emotional leader above his shoulders for Florida throughout the playoffs, and look for him to replace that weight with 34.5 pounds of silver and nickel when all is said and done.

Prediction: Panthers win in seven games.

Florida Panthers| Pro Hockey Rumors Originals| Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas: Florida: January 12, 2023: March 7, 2023: Matthew Tkachuk Jack Eichel Connor McDavid Carter Verhaeghe Aleksander Barkov Sam Reinhart Sam Bennett Jonathan Marchessault Ivan Barbashev Mark Stone William Karlsson Chandler Stephenson Reilly Smith Brandon Montour Aaron Ekblad Alex Pietrangelo Leon Draisaitl Sergei Bobrovsky Adin Hill Roope Hintz Sebastian Aho Mitch Marner David Pastrnak