The 2023 Stanley Cup Final is partially set with the Florida Panthers having punched their ticket already, while the West Finals are headed to a Game 6.
Florida must wait to see whether its opponent will be the Dallas Stars or Vegas Golden Knights.
Vegas was on the verge of sweeping Dallas, but the Stars have climbed back with two consecutive wins and head back home with a chance to even the series to force a Game 7.
After their Game 3 win, it looked like the Golden Knights were on cruise control and their clinching was all but a formality. But it's never that easy in the NHL playoffs, and Dallas now has a chance to become the fifth team in NHL history to come back from 3-0 down to win a series.
The bullied their way to the Stanley Cup Final in impressive fashion. Since Game 4 of the opening round against the Bruins, the Panthers have now won 11 of their last 12 games on their way to clinching the Eastern Conference.
Among those 11 wins were high-scoring games, low-scoring games, home wins, road wins, and potentially most impressive were the Panthers’ opponents.
With all due respect to the performances of the Golden Knights and Stars this postseason, the Panthers will have had arguably the toughest path to the Final.
The Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Hurricanes were a gauntlet of opponents that the Panthers steamrolled.
Florida did not barely scathe away against Toronto and Carolina. They dominated the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes. Is it even going to matter whether the Golden Knights or Stars clinch the Western Conference?
The Panthers hope not, but they have a long time to think about it and prepare. Especially if the Western Conference Final goes 7 games, we will get a couple days of the classic rest vs rust debate.
Regardless, the Panthers are not exactly disappointed in their efficiency of winning leading to more rest and recovery days. They will have a good scouting report and game plan ready to execute come Game 1.
There has been a very thin margin for error in the Western Conference Finals. Overtime was required to decide a winner in three of the first four games of the series.
The Golden Knights converted the overtime winner in Games 1 and 2 before shutting out Dallas by a score of 4-0 in Game 3.
When things were already looking bleak for the Stars being down 3-0 in the series, the Golden Knights held two separate leads in what could have been the series clinching Game 4, but Dallas showed plenty of resilience.
Things look good for the Stars in Game 6 carrying momentum into a home game. Vegas will push to put a stop to this momentum and clinch while Dallas will push to extend their season. Game 6 will be fantastic hockey.
The Panthers currently hold the lowest odds to win the Stanley Cup which makes sense considering they are the only team that has punched their ticket to the Finals.
At +105 they are the favorites followed by the Golden Knights at +135, and then the Stars at +550.
Not much surprise in terms of Vegas and Dallas’ odds either considering where that series sits.
Vegas is still the favorite to win the West at -330 to Dallas’ +265. The odds and favorite to win the Stanley Cup feel about right though regardless of the winner between the Golden Knights and Stars.
In over a month now since arguably the biggest upset of the postseason, the Panthers have given zero indication that they are slowing down.
Quite the opposite, in fact. It is difficult to believe that either Vegas or Dallas will be a more difficult opponent than Boston, Toronto, and Carolina.
Game 6 between the Golden Knights and Stars is Monday night at 8 PM EST on ESPN. If the Stars win and extend the series, Game 7 will be played on Wednesday night, May 31, at 9 PM EST on ESPN.
Regardless of whether Vegas wraps up this series in 6 or there is a Game 7, the Stanley Cup Finals will begin Saturday June 3. Game 1 will be televised on TNT and will be played in the Western Conference winner’s home arena.