The second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs is finally complete. Unlike the previous round, where there were three Game 7s, there was only one in the second round. It was probably easy to figure out who it was. It was the Seattle Kraken and Dallas Stars. In the end, it was the Stars being the final team in the Conference Finals defeating the Kraken by a score of 2-1 in Game 7.
Now the Eastern and Western Conference Final matchups are set. A team from Florida will once again be in the Eastern Conference Final. No, it is not the Tampa Bay Lightning again. It is the Florida Panthers. The Panthers will join the Carolina Hurricanes, who were the first team to punch their ticket to the Conference Final. Hard to imagine the Eastern Conference Final was set before the second round in the West was finished. But now the matchups are set. The Stars join the Vegas Golden Knights, the first team in the West to clinch their spot in the Conference Final.
There is a lot to get into, so this year there will be two Conference Final posts. One for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. Let’s dive into the Eastern Conference Final preview for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final Preview
Eastern Conference Final
Florida Panthers vs Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes were the first team to punch their ticket to the Conference Final. Carolina defeated the New Jersey Devils in five games in their second-round series. It is the first trip to Conference Final since 2019 when they were swept out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins. In the history of the Hurricanes organization, this is their 4th trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
Their opponents are the hard-working Florida Panthers. The Panthers are making their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final since 1996. That was the year, the Panthers went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Florida eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs also in five games in their second-round series. And now both teams have earned some much-needed time off. But the question will be will the rest hurt the momentum of the Florida Panthers?
How crazy is it that the Panthers, who won the President’s Trophy last year and made changes after being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s playoffs, are in this position? Should not come as a shock, the Panthers are turning into the team we all thought they would be. But they are running into a playoff-tested team and a team that knows how to adjust and play a system come playoff time.
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Well, that was the type of team the Panthers lost to last year in the Lightning. The Hurricanes showed they can slow down a speedy team. Not to mention they play a system and when executed perfectly, Carolina will take advantage of turnovers and lapses in play. Florida can’t play like they did against Toronto and Boston or Carolina will hurt them.
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In the regular season, the Hurricanes won the season series 2-1 over the Panthers, but as we saw in the Devils and Hurricanes series that does not mean anything. The Panthers have been in playoff mode since January and just took out two of the better teams left in the playoffs. Their aggressive forecheck drove the Maple Leafs and Bruins crazy. But as previously mentioned, the Hurricanes have just as an aggressive forecheck.
The difference is that Sergei Bobrovsky is playing on another level right now for the Panthers. Bobrovsky took over the Bruins series and has not looked back. But the same could be said for Frederik Andersen. Andersen and Bobrovsky are making the saves when called upon. It will be a heck of a goalie duel.
It will be interesting to see with Florida’s defence and goaltending if Carolina’s offence slows down. Good defence and goaltending limited Carolina’s chances in Round 1, but against New Jersey things opened up more. We thought the offence would be a problem with no Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacorietty, but the Hurricanes are proving otherwise with Jordan Martinook (10 points in Round 2), Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, Brent Burns, and the list goes on.
We know Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett will do their best to agitate their opponents. Carter Verhaghae, Anthony Duclair, and Aleksander Barkov will look to provide even more of a scoring punch. We know what Brandon Montour can do on the back end.
This will be a fun series to watch. Either Florida is going back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 or it will be the Hurricanes third trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The action gets underway Thursday night at 8pm in Carolina.
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