Panthers eyeing another upset in East final

The Tampa Bay Lightning may be long gone, but the Eastern Conference will be represented by a team from the American southeast in the Stanley Cup Final once again.

Although the Carolina Hurricanes were favoured to make it this far after winning the Metropolitan Division, the same can’t be said for the Florida Panthers — who surprised the world by escaping the loaded Atlantic.

The Panthers have been characterized as the team of destiny while the Hurricanes are a group that is hoping to get over the hump after none of its solid playoff runs in recent years have resulted in a championship.

Carolina is a deep, disciplined squad that lacks eye-popping star power. The Panthers are a less risk-averse bunch that plays a rambunctious style of hockey and relies on the top of its roster to produce most of its offence.

Here’s a rundown of what to expect from the Eastern Conference final:

What have you done for me lately?

Both teams have won two playoff series with a combined record of 16-7 and goal differential of +15 — so it’s safe to say these clubs are coming in hot. Carolina and Florida each won their second-round series 4-1, which means there’s no rest-rust debate here. Both sides have had their feet up for a few days.

Statistically speaking, Carolina has been the more impressive club of the two during the postseason. The Hurricanes are outshooting their opponents by 5.5 attempts on goal per game while the Panthers are getting outshot by 3.6.

At even strength the Hurricanes have a shot share of 53.6% with 51.8% of the expected goals. Florida’s numbers stand at 48.4% and 49.9%, respectively. Carolina’s goal differential also bests the Panthers’ total by nine.

That comparison doesn’t account for quality of opponent, though, and the Panthers road to this point was arduous. The Bruin and Leaf teams they beat combined for 246 points during the regular season. The two teams Carolina defeated combined for 205.

The 2023 NHL playoffs have been a ride so far, and this Canes-Panthers series should be no different. (Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports)

The 2023 NHL playoffs have been a ride so far, and this Canes-Panthers series should be no different. (Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports)

The Hurricanes will win if…

They handle Florida like they did during the regular season. In three meetings with the Panthers the Hurricanes went 2-1, outscoring their third-round opponent 10-7.

Carolina carried the play in those matchups, outshooting Florida in every game and amassing a shot differential of +20. The Hurricanes were the NHL’s best possession team during the regular season and their playoff performance has been solid as they’re tops among remaining squads in shot attempt percentage.

The Hurricanes tilt the math in their favour by denying their opponents the puck, and if they keep doing that it’s easy to like their chances. Carolina gets in trouble when its goaltending fails to meet the level of its excellent team defence or its scorers go cold despite their barrage of attempts.

Scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Hurricanes lately as they’ve averaged 3.64 goals per game during the playoffs. Goaltending has also been solid since Frederik Andersen took control of the crease in Game 6 of the first round.

The Panthers will win if…

Their best players are the best players in the series. The fact of the matter is that the Hurricanes don’t have an offensive threat as dynamic as Matthew Tkachuk. Their stable of goaltenders doesn’t contain a guy who can match Sergei Bobrovsky at his best — and the Russian was at his best in the second round.

Even on the blueline the Panthers probably have the most dynamic weapon with Brandon Montour making a star turn this season and scoring at an impressive clip during the playoffs. You could make an argument for Brent Burns, but at the age of 38 he’s not the offensive menace he once was.

Florida simply cannot match Carolina’s depth, but they have players capable of producing moments of brilliance that the Hurricanes could have a hard time replicating. Although Carolina has been hot during the playoffs offensively, the Panthers outscored them by 28 goals during the regular season.

Likely series hero

When hockey fans envision the platonic ideal of a playoff performer Tkachuk is more or less the guy they’re thinking of. He scores, he sets up his teammates, he drives possession, he hits hard and he gets under the skin of whoever he’s playing.

The value of his extra-curricular activity is hard to quantify, but there isn’t a team in the NHL that wouldn’t want Tkachuk on their first line. During both the playoffs and regular season the winger helped his team dominate the play during his 5-on-5 ice time better than the vast majority of forwards:



The Toronto Maple Leafs surprisingly held Tkachuk without a goal in the second round, but it’s unlikely he’ll be kept in check the same way again. Even if he remains in a goal-scoring slump, he contributes in so many facets of the game that his presence will be felt.

Unsung hero candidate

Seth Jarvis is coming off a fairly quiet 39-point regular season, but he’s having a strong postseason run.

Although the 21-year-old has a relatively thin resume to be skating alongside top centre Sebastian Aho, he’s been making the most of it lately. The Hurricanes aren’t known as a team that creates quick-strike offence, but Jarvis has been impressive off the rush during the postseason.

The ability to turn nothing into something is a handy skill to have when playoff games get tight, and Jarvis certainly has it. He already has one game-winning goal in this postseason and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him add to that total.


Hurricanes in six.

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