After a second round that saw its dosage of; heart stopping comebacks, pivotal officiating decisions, and nail-biting finishes, the Conference Finals have arrived and four teams remain, in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

One team hopes to rekindle the glories of 1994, one team hopes to bring the Cup to Sunrise a place where the hallowed Trophy has yet to reside, one team hopes to put an end to years of playoff disappointment to rest, and one team carries the hopes of an entire nation starving for a champion.

28 down, 4 remain, let’s look at who is in line to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup.

(M1) New York Rangers vs (A1) Florida Panthers

The Eastern Semis saw both teams survive counterattacks from their second-round opponents to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

New York after dropping games four and five to the Hurricanes, escaped game six with a comeback down 3-1 in the third, thanks to Chris Kreider’s natural hat trick the Rangers eliminated Carolina in six games. The series was as close as you could anticipate between the two statistical leaders in many special teams categories. The first four games were decided by one goal with two won by the Rangers in overtime.

The Panthers upended Boston in six games allowing merely five goals in the last three games of the series. Florida outscored Boston 12-2 in games two and three before Florida relied on their defense to close out the series.

About the Rangers: For New York, their last Stanley Cup championship in 1994, came on the heels of a President’s Trophy campaign, and began with the Rangers winning their first seven games in post season play, this year’s installment has done the same. New York’s key stars primarily have been additions that came from outside of the organization.

Adequately one of those key contributors is Vincent Trocheck, the leading scorer in the postseason for New York, Trocheck spent his first seven years with the Florida Panthers. Although his time with Florida carried the longest tenure with one team, the American centerman saw career highs this season in assists and points while setting career highs in points in the playoffs this year through two rounds.

When it’s not Trocheck carrying the scoring weight Mika Zibanejad with a team high eleven assists these playoffs, is a suspect you anticipate helping with the scoring for the Rangers.

Forwards Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider will be keys for New York if they hope to keep pace with Florida. Igor Shesterkin boasts the highest goals against average of all remaining goaltenders with .923.

For the Rangers, if scoring is hard to come by, Shesterkin will need replicate his Vezina caliber of 2022 to put New York in the Cup Final for the first time in a decade.

About the Panthers: Florida, since their genesis to the National Hockey League in 1993, were constantly sought after as a team that carried an underdog tag. From their Stanley Cup runner up pursuit in 1996, to their playoff series win drought that lasted until 2022, Florida never satisfied the eye test of a true contender. But after a Cinderella run last season to the Cup Final, Florida has squashed their perceived underdog status.

Florida’s second round series win over Boston certified their championship pedigree. Facing a red-hot Jeremy Swayman in goal for Boston, stellar defensive play by the Panthers allowed opportune scoring to decide the series. Aleksander Barkov offensively sparked Florida with three goals and five assists, critical in giving Florida the edge in the series. Sergei Bobrovsky was once again a steady line of defense for Florida which included holding Boston no more than two goals through the final five games of the series.

Florida edges New York with their depth, sure the Panthers have their top line of Sam Bennett, Matthew Tkachuk, and Carter Verhaeghe, but when you have Vladimir Tarasenko and Sam Reinhart as a part of your depth, your team is in good hands. In their short history, Florida may have their best roster in franchise history. Florida has won six of seven regular season matchups against playoff teams still alive in the Cup chase.

The Series: The Panthers went 26 years without winning a playoff series until a series victory against Washington ended the drought. Year #1 of the drought saw the only playoff meeting between the Rangers and Panthers. New York won four straight games to beat Florida in five which included two Rangers overtime victories, including the series winner from Esa Tikkanen. The Panthers in the regular season won two of three against the Rangers with the lone loss coming in a shootout at Madison Square Garden. The Stanley Cup Playoffs can be a brutal elimination tournament that could see top teams fall, but it is save to discern, the two best teams in the East are clashing in the ECF.

Pick: Panthers in 5

Nothing beats experience, especially deep in the postseason, Florida has it, New York does not. Last year in the ECF against Carolina, Florida swept Carolina with each game decided by one goal, this series is shaping to be just as thin as far as margins are concerned. Florida’s postseason experience should prove enough to bring the Stanley Cup Final back to Sunrise again.

(C1) Dallas Stars vs (P2) Edmonton Oilers

Unmatched expectations.

Dallas year after year sports a Stars team that contends oftentimes for long playoff runs but has yet to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup since past midnight on June 20, 1999. Dallas defeated the Colorado Avalanche thanks to former Avs first round pick Matt Duchenne’s double overtime winner in game six. The Stars have hopes of ending their near 25-year Cup drought, but their adversary is their second most common playoff opponent, the acclaimed “City of Champions”.

Edmonton with the “best player in the world” in Connor McDavid have yet to meet expectations of handing Edmonton their sixth Stanley Cup and a nation that has not seen a champion since 1993. The Oilers survived in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks thanks to a breakout series for Evan Bouchard with four goals and seven assists.

Two years ago, the Oilers fell in the West Final to future Cup Champion Colorado, and the following year Dallas fell in the West Final to future Cup Champion Vegas. The Western Conference Final will see one team’s unfulfilled expectations plenished with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

About the Stars: Dallas finds themselves in a familiar spot. Last season, the Stars got themselves in a 3-0 series hole against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Stars’ valiant effort fell short in six games. This year’s Dallas Stars team has seen regression of their top stars that has been compensated by their younger stars stepping up. Although forward Jason Robertson saw a 25 goal regression, second year star Wyatt Johnston saw a 24 point increase and Matt Duchene saw another stellar season eclipsing the 20 goal mark.

The Stars in their second round series against Colorado saw their best when they were on the road. Against the best home team in the regular season, Dallas outscored Colorado 11-3, winning all three games in Ball Arena. Much of this is because of Dallas netminder Jake Oettinger who annually tends to keep Dallas in games. Oettinger notably in 2022 registered a staggering 64 saves in a game 7 loss to the Calgary Flames.

Dallas this postseason has seen fantastic efforts from their blue line, Miro Heiskanen leads all remaining defenseman in goals with five to go in tandem with eight assists. Wyatt Johnston has been Dallas’s top goal scorer in the playoffs with seven goals.

Dallas’s strength oddly enough is playing on the road, Dallas is 3-3 at home and 5-1 on the road. Should they see a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in their future, it may be their performance at home that can play the difference on if the Cup Final will be back in Texas for the first time since 2000.

About the Oilers: The last two seasons have seen the Oilers lose to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, last year just like Dallas, a six game series defeat to Vegas led to angst of the expectations the Oilers have with having three time MVP Connor McDavid.

Edmonton in the second round against the Vancouver Canucks saw a carousel of last second finishes and goal tending changes. After three high scoring games and trailing 2-1 in the series, Head Coach Kris Knoblauch made the decision to swap starting goaltender Stuart Skinner for former Seattle Thunderbird Calvin Pickard. The ex-T-Bird performed stellar in a last second 3-2 win for Edmonton. Unfortunately for Pickard in game 5, the Oilers gave up a last second goal of their own to fall 3-2 in the series.

Knoblauch decided to give Stuart Sinner one more chance, and the payout on the dividends was plenty. Skinner allowed three goals in the last two games and the Oilers offense provided enough to give Oilers the margin necessary to upend the Canucks. The Oilers offense although anchored by your usual suspects of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid saw a breakout postseason from Evan Bouchard, against Vancouver Bouchard accounted for 5 goals and 15 assists both tops for defenseman this postseason. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a part of the solution for the Oilers with 4 goals and 12 assists which included the game winning goal in game 7.

The glaring concern for the Oilers is their depth. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid share four MVP awards between them, but can the Oilers fourth line spark production? If they can, the Oilers would be in great shape.

The Series: The Oilers and Stars have met in the postseason eight previous occasions with the first two being in the Conference finals, the Oilers in 1984 swept the then Minnesota North Stars en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The North Stars in 1991, dethroned the defending champion Oilers in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup for the second time in their history.

The most notable playoff encounter came in 1997 when the Oilers upset the President Trophy winning Stars in game 7 overtime thanks to Todd Marchant, and a heroic goaltending performance by Curtis Joseph. The Stars would meet the Oilers five of the next six seasons and won all five playoffs series including in 1999, when they won the franchise’s only Stanley Cup.

In the regular season, Dallas went 2-0-1 against Edmonton, with their lone loss coming in overtime. Their last encounter saw the Stars trounce Edmonton 5-0 on April 3.

There are many components to monitor in this series that carry intrigue. How will the Stars defend against the Oilers lethal power play? Which defenseman will have a better series? Heiskanen for Dallas or Bouchard for Edmonton? Can Edmonton overcome struggles with their goaltending with offense?

Dallas will play better in lower scoring games while Edmonton looks to see plenty of scoring to cater their strength.

Pick: Stars in 5

Dallas boasts depth to their arsenal, and that depth leaves Dallas the clear favorite in this series. Edmonton’s lack of production outside of their superstars is a problem that can cripple the Oilers by putting too much of a weight for them to carry. Expect Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger to be at his absolute best, and send Dallas to their second Stanley Cup final in five years.

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