The Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers drew first blood in the West and East Finals, respectively, as both teams continue to strive for the Stanley Cup.
There have been wild games, thrilling series' and historic upsets. If early returns are any indication of things to come, we are in line for more of the same with the conference semi-finals.
The Carolina Hurricanes are facing the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference, while the proceedings out West pit the Vegas Golden Knights against the Dallas Stars.
Both Game 1s required extra-time to be decided.
Let’s take a look at how things stand in the Stanley Cup playoffs heading into the weekend.
No city is making more significant moves in the sports world these days in terms of franchise expansion than Las Vegas – and it just might pay off in the form of a champion in 2023.
In their sixth season of existence, the Golden Knights advanced to the Western Conference Finals with victories over the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, dropping just three total games in the process.
Now they lead the Stars 1-0 following a 4-3 overtime victory in front of the home crowd.
Friday’s contest saw Vegas erase a 1-0 deficit in the second period before twice squandering one-goal advantages in the third.
Dallas tied things up for a final time with 1:59 remaining to force overtime at 3-3. Just 1:35 into the extra frame, however, the Golden Knights answered in the form of a game-winner by center Brett Howden.
To say that Howden had been due would be an understatement. He delivered two goals and three assists in the first six games of playoffs, before going on a five-game stretch without a point prior to Friday’s heroics.
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Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals won’t soon be forgotten – although the Hurricanes will want to somehow put it behind them.
Thursday’s showdown in Carolina went to not one, not two, not three, but four overtimes. In fact, it was 12 seconds away from going into fifth OT before Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk lit the lamp to end it and give his team a 3-2 victory.
Florida has, without question, been the story of these NHL play-offs so far.
It all started with one of the biggest upsets in playoff history, especially when you consider that the Panthers trailed their first-round series against the Boston Bruins 3-1.
The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy (best regular-season record) with 135 points and nobody else was even close (interestingly, the Hurricanes were second with 113).
However, Boston could not hang on and Florida improbably advanced with three wins in a row.
Riding that wave, head coach Paul Maurice’s crew proceeded to oust the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games.
Following Thursday’s Game 1 theatrics, the Panthers are now 5-0 in overtime during the playoffs.
They were victorious in extra time twice against both Boston and Toronto, including in Game 7 in the opening round and in the Game 5 clincher during the conference quarter-finals.
As the top seed remaining in the playoffs and armed with a 1-0 lead in its series, Vegas is unsurprisingly the current favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
The Golden Knights are priced at +190 to lift one of the most famous trophies in American sport.
They are followed by the Panthers at +250, the Hurricanes are +300 and the Stars are +380.
In turn, the Golden Knights v Stars series is currently priced as the more lopsided of the two.
Vegas are -200 to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, while Dallas are the +170 underdogs to advance.
In the Eastern Conference, Florida are -160 to triumph and Carolina can be backed at +140.
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