May 28, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers center Sam Reinhart (13) reacts toward the fans after scoring the game-winning goal against the New York Rangers during overtime in game four of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview

With two teams left in the NHL Playoffs, it’s time to take a look at what to watch for in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals between the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers. The Panthers advanced in six games against the New York Rangers, while Edmonton took down the Dallas Stars in six as well.

Both teams’ head coaches addressed the media before the Stanley Cup Finals are set to kick off on Saturday. Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch acknowledged the skill of both teams, while also stating that the two had different styles they have used to succeed. Knoblauch went on to affirm that Edmonton will keep on playing its own way.

An Even Matchup

This year’s Stanley Cup Finals feature two phenomenal teams that are nearly even in their firepower. In many ways, this series is strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. Though it would be facetious to say either team is weak on offense or defense, respectively, neither team would have gotten to this point if they were not very strong on both ends.

Edmonton’s clear strength is its offense, one that finished fourth in goals scored during the regular season with a +69 offensive rating. Nevertheless, this Oilers attack has to compete with a Panthers defense that ranked second in the NHL in goals allowed. Conversely, the Panthers offense, while still ranking 11th in the league, will seek to find ways to score against the Oilers’ 10th- ranked defense. Edmonton edges Florida out when comparing net ratings, but only by a sliver. The Oilers have a +89 net rating, while the Cats come in at +81. While each squad has its stronger areas, the teams will need to play their best on both sides, which Panthers head coach Paul Maurice acknowledged when he addressed the media before the Finals begin.

 

Battle of the Stars: Edmonton Oilers

There are no clouds in the forecast for this series. The NHL’s stars will be shining at their brightest for however many games these Finals go.

Before getting to the proverbial king Connor McDavid, it’s important to acknowledge the Oilers other stars. Leon Draisaitl and Evan Bouchard have proven nothing short of outstanding. The pair rank second and third in points this postseason, with each star having his own historic playoff run. No defenseman has scored more points per game than Bouchard since since Paul Coffey in 1985.

Yet however great his teammates are, there is no one better than McDavid. The Edmonton center displays why he is considered by most the best player in the game today on a nightly basis. McDavid appears inevitable thus far in his playoff run. No matter who opposing teams have put up against him, whether it be future Hall of Famers or current stars, McDavid has remained undeterred.  While his scoring has electrified crowds all over the country, McDavid’s assists during this run have been just as eye-opening. The Oilers franchise cornerstone only ranks behind the playoff runs of hockey immortals Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Nikita Kucherov. And if his play continues the way it has already gone, he may pass all of them.

Battle of the Stars: Florida Panthers

But if anyone can stop McDavid, it’s the Cats of the South. Florida boasts its own bunch of stars, ones that could very much prove to be kingslayers in this series. The Panthers’ offensive quartet of Aleksander Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Reinhart and Carter Verhaeghe has fired on all cylinders in these playoffs. Add that to defensemen Gustav Forsling and Aaron Ekblad, and you have one of the most formidable combinations of offense and defense in the league. Florida also boasts one of the best goalies in the NHL in 35-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky.

The combined power of these two teams’ stars combined is too great to look away from and should make for an unforgettable battle.

Separators: What May Decide the Champion

The Panthers and Oilers boast some of the game’s best. That’s clear. But star power is not all it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

One factor that may prove vital in this matchup, as it always has, is the special teams play from each team. Edmonton’s power play, as one could have guessed, has been historic. There is not a single team better than the Oilers in power play scoring percentage during a playoff run since 1981 (minimum 16 games). When three of the best playoff scorers of all-time are on the ice during an advantage, how can they be stopped?

The Panthers, however, will need to answer that question in a way no other team has thus far. Luckily for Florida fans, their team ranks third-best in the NHL in expected goals against on the power play this postseason. Once again, it will be stronghold taking on stronghold in this matchup.

To find another key difference between these teams, it may take a little digging deeper beyond the surface. Florida’s depth has proven itself as a major contributor in the playoffs, with players like Sam Bennett and Anton Lundell stepping up. This may give Florida an advantage, as Edmonton’s depth has struggled to find its footing so far. The Panthers must expose this weakness, especially if Edmonton’s big three continues dominating as it has so far.

Potential Classic

No matter which team wins, the 2024 Stanley Cup Finals are gearing up to be a classic. Now all we have to do is wait until June 8 to see what these juggernauts can do.

Puck drop in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals is set for this Saturday at 8:00 p.m. EDT on ABC.

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