NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2023: Conference Finals Series Previews

Updated: 3 Sport

Noah Strang breaks down the NHL's final four.

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2023: Conference Finals Series Previews

Image: Andrea Catenaro/shutterstock

Noah Strang Hockey Editor

Noah Strang is OLBG's Hockey Expert. He has written about Hockey for some of the Worlds top publications and worked as an accredited NHL media correspondent.

With the last of the Round Two matchups in the NHL Playoffs having concluded on Monday night, just four teams remain in the quest for the Stanley Cup. The Conference Finals are set to begin tonight and excitement is building. As has been the case for the past 30 years, Lord Stanley will not be hoisted by a Canadian team as both the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs fell short of their aspirations. Rather, the four members of the Conference Finals are all based in non-traditional hockey markets in which two of them have never won it all. With that being said, let’s take a look at both the Eastern and Western Conference Final matchups. 

Florida Panthers vs. Carolina Hurricanes-135

The Eastern Conference Finals feature the two hottest teams right now in the playoffs as the Carolina Hurricanes take on the Florida Panthers. After each franchise utterly dismantled their second-round opponents in just five games, they both had lots of time to think about one another and form plans of attack. 

The two teams have a somewhat similar style of play as they’re both aggressive on the forecheck and pin their opposition in their own end through the use of a strong cycle game. 

Florida has an edge in the physicality department as every line they throw out on the ice is looking to bruise and batter you every chance they can get. This level of physicality really bothered the Bruins and Maple Leafs defenseman causing them to often ice the puck or commit turnovers. Carolina is equipped to handle this as they have a big and strong defensive core with many capable puck movers. Guys like Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei will have to be willing to take their fair share of hits to make plays throughout the series. 

Carolina, although not as physically daunting, will cause equal nightmares for the Florida backend with their speed, stickwork, and ability to take away passing lanes. Florida’s defense is not the same caliber as Carolina’s and because of this the Hurricanes’ forecheck may ultimately be the more effective of the two. Aaron Ekblad is a great defender and puck mover but aside from him, they don’t have anyone who plays both of those roles to an elite level. Brandon Montour is great offensively and Radko Gudas can be a pain to play against but both could become susceptible to a hard forecheck from one of the league's most organized and well-coached teams. 

Another common factor between these two teams has been their stellar goalie play in the postseason. Each began their playoff runs with some inconsistent play between the pipes but have since found netminders who have been playing at a spectacular level. Carolina’s Frederik Andersen has started each of the team’s past six games and has given up just 10 goals en route to a 5-1 record. For Florida, Sergei Bobrovsky has been equally impressive, giving up no more than two goals in any game during round two and sporting a 7-2 record since taking over in game four against Boston. Whichever goalie can hold their elite form as this series moves on will give their team a distinct advantage. 

On paper, Florida appears to have a considerable advantage when it comes to the forward cores considering Carolina will still be without three of their top offensive contributors due to injury. However, the same could have been said about the Hurricanes’ matchup with the Devils and they proved that they have guys able to step up and do the job. The matchup that could decide this series will be Florida’s top line of Matthew Tkachuk, Nick Cousins, and Sam Bennett against the Hurricanes’ shutdown unit of Jordan Staal, Martin Necas, and Jack Drury. If Staal and his counterparts are able to keep Tkachuk and co. in check, the Hurricanes will have to like their chances at advancing. If they can’t however, and that Florida line is able to consistently do damage, they could be in trouble. 

Sportsbooks have installed Carolina as a slight favorite here at -135 while the Panthers sit at +115. Because of the trust I have in Carolina’s defenseman to handle waves of forward pressure better than Florida’s, I like the Hurricanes in a gritty seven-game series. 

Dallas Stars vs. Vegas Golden Knights-135

The Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights are set to square off in what is a rematch of the 2018 Western Conference Finals which saw the Stars prevail in five games. The teams are vastly different now than they were back then, and the series is likely to be a much closer battle. 

Offensively, both teams are talented and deep with three solid lines that are all capable of contributing offensively. Because of this, Vegas will be forced to play a different style of play than they did in round two where they contributed most of their resources to limiting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl due to the Oilers’ lack of secondary scoring. Although Dallas does have top-end talent that can potentially take over a series, Vegas should focus more on winning each individual shift rather than shutting down one line. With the likes of Tyler Seguin, Wyatt Johnston, and Jamie Benn on Dallas’s second and third lines, the Golden Knights won’t have the opportunities to take their foot off the gas pedal on any shifts as they may have against the Oilers. Luckily for them, they are well equipped to do so as their center trio of Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, and William Karlsson is one of the best one-two-three punches in the league. 

After beating the Kraken in seven games, Dallas will certainly have their hands full with the Golden Knights. During their second-round series, the line-by-line waves of pressure put on them by the Kraken proved tough for them to deal with at times and as previously mentioned, with Vegas’s depth they will be able to attack the Stars every shift in a similar manner. The difference is Vegas is significantly more talented than Seattle, meaning the Stars will have to improve their zone breakouts and board play to keep the Golden Knights’ stars from having consistently threatening scoring chances. 

Both of these teams also feature depth along the blueline with three defensive pairings capable of playing 15+ minutes a night. The big guns on defense are still likely to log heavy minutes as Miro Heiskanen’s puck-moving ability will lay the groundwork for Dallas’s attack and Alex Pietrangelo will be tasked with shutting down the likes of Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson. With Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez likely to often be matched up against Dallas’s top line, Shea Theodore will be looked upon to provide offense for the Golden Knights from the back end. 

One area in which Dallas appears to have a distinct advantage is between the pipes. Jake Oettinger is a consensus top-five goalie in the league whereas Vegas is essentially down to their third-stringer in Adin Hill. Although Hill has played well ever since being thrust into the starter role against Edmonton, Oettinger without a doubt projects to be the more reliable of the two and has proved before that he has the chops to take over a series. 

Vegas is favored ever so slightly at -135 while the Stars are at +115. With the rosters seeming awfully equal to one another, I’m betting on goaltending being the difference in this series with Oettinger and the Stars winning it in six. 

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