Stanley Cup Final Preview: Florida Panthers vs Edmonton Oilers

Training camp for 32 NHL teams began in September of last year, but at long last, the list of 32 that spans across two countries, four time zones, and four divisions has dwindled down to two teams, the Florida Panthers, and the Edmonton Oilers.

The Panthers have yet to win a Stanley Cup in their history, whereas the Oilers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1990. For the Oilers this is an opportunity for Canada to win a long-awaited Stanley Cup. For the Panthers, redemption after being denied at the doorstep last season. The storylines for this Stanley Cup Final every year do not disappoint, and the same can be said in this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

About the Panthers:

Playoff Results:
Round 1: Defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in 5 games
Round 2: Defeated the Boston Bruins in 6 games
Round 3: Defeated the New York Rangers in 6 games

It’s been a tale of two different Cup runs for the Florida Panthers, that saw the Cats this time more prepared in their journey for the Stanley Cup. Last year’s Panthers team went on a late season tear to sneak into the playoffs as the last seed and upset the record 65-win Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round. The Panthers went on to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1996 but were no match to a depth affluent Vegas Golden Knights team. This edition’s Panthers team knew their playoff spot was all but guaranteed, which helped Florida prepare for the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Florida’s strength is their physical brand of hockey in tandem with depth scoring. Florida faced three top five scorers in the regular season in three different rounds (Nikita Kucherov (TB), David Pasternak (BOS), and Artemi Panarin (NYR)) and allowed a combined two goals amongst the three superstars. Defensively Aleksander Barkov winner of the Selke Trophy for the league’s best defensive forward is evidence of why Florida is tough to score on. This is also a credit to goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who has saved his best for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Eastern Conference Final saw Bobrovsky save 23 shots in the Eastern Conference clinching game against the Rangers. The ex-Calgary Flame Matthew Tkachuk has been a constant thorn in the side of many opponents and leads Florida with 19 points in the postseason. Florida’s other forwards have been critical for their success. Although Sam Reinhart and Carter Verhaeghe are forwards you would expect to anchor the Panthers, there have been two Panthers that have been pleasant surprises this playoffs, Anton Lundell and Sam Bennett. Lundell scored what turned out to be the winning goal in game 5 while Bennett ranks tied for third in goals with Aleksander Barkov.

Florida’s defensemen also have scoring capability, Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour split seven goals between them (4,3). But although the Panthers have plenty of stars hoping to win their first Cup, few have had the journey like captain Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad was drafted by the Panthers in 2014 after Florida won a mere fifteen games, and Ekblad had seen four of his first five seasons with the Panthers out of the playoffs before Florida has gone to five consecutive playoff appearances. After nine seasons with the Panthers, claiming the Stanley Cup for Ekblad would be one of the finer stories of a dream realized.

About the Oilers:

Playoff Results:
First Round: Defeated the Los Angeles Kings in 5 games
Second Round: Defeated the Vancouver Canucks in 7 games
Third Round: Defeated the Dallas Stars in 6 games

Expectations for the Edmonton Oilers have been sky high, ever since their fifth Championship in 1990, the Oilers’ well dried up, only seeing the Cup Final in 2006. With the Oilers drought, the nation of Canada would see a similar drought that started three years later. Edmonton’s effort to end the drought in 2022 fell short in the conference finals to the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche. Last year saw another loss to the future champs in Vegas. But this year’s Edmonton team saw them winning two of their first twelve games, before the Oilers had Kris Knoblauch take over for the Oilers and lead them into another playoff spot. A conference final victory against historical foe Dallas sent Edmonton to their first Stanley Cup Final since their Cinderella 2006 campaign.

The Oilers dominance could not be understated the worth Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid provide. Draft a year a part, the tandem of McDavid and Draisaitl have amassed four MVPs and incredible offensive displays. But to reach the Stanley Cup Final, Edmonton needed to rely on more than just their two stars. A pleasant surprise was a forward that could accompany the two, Zach Hyman with a 54-goal season good for third best in the league. His 14 goals in the playoffs ranks best amongst all skaters in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hyman’s breakout season has come thanks to his ability to pester opposing goaltenders. The Oilers forward unit also consists of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, an Oiler for all 12 of his NHL seasons. RNH has benefited in playing in such an offensively minded Edmonton team with 20 points in the playoffs.

The Oilers back line has also seen the growth of one their own draft stars, Evan Bouchard. Six goals to go along with 21 assists as a defenseman has been pivotal for Edmonton in their playoff run. Although their offense comes without any second guessing, their goaltending is a different matter. With an offensively dependent team, goaltending for Edmonton was always a question mark.

The Oilers playoff run saw its turning point in game six of their second round series against the Vancouver Canucks. After Calvin Pickard started games four and five, Edmonton with their backs against the wall chose to rely on the once replaced Skinner with the season on the line. And he delivered big time. Edmonton won that decisive game six 5-1, with Skinner helping to close out the Canucks in a 3-2 game 7 win.

The Western Conference Final saw Skinner bringing his finest. In the final three games of the series, Skinner allowed four goals, which included being barraged by 34 Dallas shots in the series clinching 2-1 victory. For Edmonton, the big question is if their goaltending supports a city and a nation starving for a Cup Champion.

The Series:

Florida comes into this series as the favorite, and for good reason. A team hungry to finish unfinished dreams last year, against a team hoping to give their generational talent his first championship.

In their two regular season meetings, Florida won both, winning the first encounter in Sunrise 5-3 and in Edmonton 5-1. The two games saw the goalie matchup between Sergei Bobrovsky and Calvin Pickard. Only time will tell how Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner will fare against the Panthers.

The goaltender matchup has seen redemption stories for both. Stuart Skinner reclaimed his stake of being between the pipes for Edmonton while Sergei Bobrovsky went from leaving Columbus where he won two Vezina Trophies to a veteran playoff goaltender with Florida.

This will also be our first glimpse of Connor McDavid in a Stanley Cup Final. A Stanley Cup win would be the first step #97 can take to inch towards legendary status.

The Panthers are one of the youngest franchises in the league, and their existence is the same length as Canada’s playoff drought, will Florida have their first Cup, or will Lord Stanley head back North of the border?

Pick: Panthers in 5 games
Conn Smythe: Sergei Bobrovsky

Florida all year has played with playoffs on their mind, and their physicality and stifling defense is evidence of it. Edmonton will have to stride to outpace the Panthers, but their style of play feeds into Florida’s brand of hockey. With how well Florida defends, look for Sergei Bobrovsky to have a career defining series. The Oilers will need legendary performances from their top stars if they hope to extend the length of the series and ultimately considering the circumstances, this is the Panthers Cup to lose.

One way or the other the Stanley Cup always ceases to entertain its momentum shifts and history being rewritten, 2024 promises to add another chapter to the legacy of the greatest tournament in sports.

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