That may seem like a lopsided series, but the Panthers have looked like anything but a No. 8 seed in the postseason. Florida took down the Boston Bruins, the Stanley Cup favorites, in the first round before going 8-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes in the next two rounds.
The Golden Knights were one of the favorites to win the West, and they've played like one. Vegas rolled through Winnipeg in the first round and defeated the Edmonton Oilers in the second round. The Golden Knights took a 3-0 lead on the Dallas Stars in the conference final, but the Stars clawed their way back for a couple wins before Vegas slammed the door with an emphatic Game 6 win.
Both teams have looked worthy of the Stanley Cup through the first three rounds, but only one of them can win it all now. Here are our predictions for the 2023 Stanley Cup Final.
Austin Nivison: The Panthers have rolled through what appeared to be superior opponents in the first three rounds, and Matthew Tkachuk has been the one leading the way. Not only has Tkachuk played well overall, but his knack for scoring clutch goals is simply unmatched. I don't see Tkachuk slowing down at all in the Stanley Cup Final. The Golden Knights will just have to make their hay when Tkachuk isn't on the ice.
The Golden Knights have relied on its elite depth, with every player tallying a point in the conference final, even when Jack Eichel and Mark Stone combined for just one goal. This Panthers team isn't as stout as the Stars on defense, so expect Eichel and Stone to find the scoresheet more often in the Cup Final.
Defensively, Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb are probably the best pairing in this series, which gives the Golden Knights the edge there. Florida also happens to have the biggest liability. Marc Staal has played almost 309 minutes at five-on-five and has really struggled. The Golden Knights can exploit that matchup whenever Staal is in the game.
There hasn't been much daylight between the two goalies in this series. Sergei Bobrovsky and Adin Hill have both been brick walls despite the fact that neither started Game 1 of the playoffs for their respective teams.
The Panthers' biggest advantage will probably be special teams. Their power play has scored on 27.9% of its opportunities, and the Vegas penalty kill has been leaky throughout the postseason. Florida could flip the series in its favor with some timely goals on the man advantage.
I expect a long and close series between these two teams with stars like Eichel and Tkachuk playing at the top of their game. Ultimately, the Golden Knights' depth and stronger defense will win out. Pick -- Golden Knights defeat Panthers, 4-3
Chris Bengel: What the Panthers have accomplished throughout the 2023 postseason has been nothing short of exceptional. When the blockbuster trade went down last summer, I'll be the first to admit I thought the Panthers overpaid to acquire Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames. It's safe to say Tkachuk has won many over, including myself, with his timely game-winning goals throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It's going to be a tough task to slow down Tkachuk, but the Golden Knights do have the defense to at least limit his production to some extent. During the Western Conference Final, the Golden Knights defense was able to slow down the Stars, especially up the middle.
Stars center Roope Hintz had been one of the postseason's top performers, but the Golden Knights' defensemen held Hintz to just two points in the final five games of the series. The Golden Knights possess a steady veteran top defensive pairing in Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez, who both have won Stanley Cups in the past.
The Golden Knights' talented forward group is likely going to be the X-factor in this series. Vegas possesses a top-six group of forwards that includes the likes of Jack Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson, just to name a few. This is a team that has averaged 3.65 goals-per-game throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which ranks third among playoff teams.
The biggest catalyst for the Golden Knights is their ability to score in five-on-five situations. Vegas has racked up 62 goals through 17 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- 49 of those goals have come in the five-on-five, which is the most of any team.
This figures to be a very evenly-matched series with quite a bit of firepower on each side. However, I do believe that the Golden Knights' scoring depth will prove to be the difference and will lead them to their first Stanley Cup. Pick -- Golden Knights defeat Panthers, 4-3