3 reasons why Panthers will win Stanley Cup against Oilers

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
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The 2024 Stanley Cup Final begins Saturday in Sunrise, Florida. Paul Maurice’s Florida Panthers return to the championship round for the second season in a row, taking on rookie head coach Kris Knoblauch and the Edmonton Oilers, who advanced to the Cup Final for the first time since 2006.

While these two teams are very far apart geographically (2,543 miles — the furthest distance in a Stanley Cup Final in NHL history), there’s not a ton of distance between these two when it comes to the on-ice product.

Florida clinched the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Division in Game 82 of the regular season, ranking fifth in the League with 110 points. They knocked off a couple of tricky division rivals in the first two rounds, disposing of the Tampa Bay Lightning in five and the Boston Bruins in six, before upsetting the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers in a six-game Eastern Conference Final.

Meanwhile, Edmonton finished second in the Pacific Division with 104 points and took care of the Los Angeles Kings in five games to open the Stanley Cup playoffs before rallying from a 3-2 series hole in Round 2 to eliminate the Vancouver Canucks. Then, in a Western Conference Final featuring a Dallas Stars team that finished second in the League with 113 points and was praised as the deepest team in the NHL, Edmonton upset the West’s No. 1 seed with three consecutive wins to clinch a series win in six games.

The big knock on the Oilers these past few years, particularly in postseason play, is that they’re too top-heavy and overly reliant on offense to win games, lacking the depth, defense, and goaltending necessary to win the Cup.

They’ve bucked that trend this year. While Connor McDavid (five goals, NHL-leading 31 points) and Leon Draisaitl (10 goals, 28 points) have had a very loud impact in these playoffs, the team as a whole is playing complete playoff hockey.

Edmonton leads all teams this postseason with an astonishing 93.9 percent penalty kill. Mattias Janmark and Evander Kane have bolstered the production of the bottom-six. And Stuart Skinner has performed admirably in net, particularly since his benching in the Vancouver series, posting a 2.50 goals-against average across 16 postseason games.

On the other side, Florida is showing that last year’s magical run wasn’t a fluke. The Panthers were run down by injuries and a grueling first three rounds before losing in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023, but that’s not the case this season. Florida appears healthy and firing on all cylinders after thoroughly outplaying the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. With the ability to roll four lines and play talented but physical hockey, the Panthers are, simply put, a nightmare matchup.

Any other year, we’d probably highlight depth as a key advantage in Florida’s favor. That’s less of the talking point with the production Edmonton’s gotten from players outside of McDavid and Draisaitl. Still, there are three key factors that could give Florida the edge in what’s shaping up to be an exciting Stanley Cup Final.

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Panthers ability to shut down star players

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
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The Panthers are a uniquely dangerous team because of their ability to play a complete 200-foot game consistently. Florida can score with the best of them, boasting four 70-point scorers this regular season led by a 57-goal, 94-point year from Sam Reinhart. As dominant as they can be offensively, there as dominant, if not more so, defensively.

Aleksander Barkov won the Selke Award, given to the League’s best defensive forward, for the second time in his career. Reinhart finished fourth in Selke voting. On the blue line, they’ve got Gustav Forsling, who’s recently received praise from the national media and his own coach for being one of the best defensemen in the NH.

Barkov, in particular, has done an excellent job of shutting down the League’s best in this run.

“The SportsNet stat group had an unbelievable stat about Barkov,” NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said on the latest episode of 32 Thoughts. “No goals against Kucherov, one goal against Pastrnak, no goals when they were facing Panarin. He was on the ice for an hour and a half against these three guys in the first three rounds, and they scored once against him.”

The Panthers have done an excellent job of shutting down the best players this postseason. The one exception is Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, who scored five goals in the five-game series. Kucherov, however, was held scoreless in 107:09 TOI. Pastrnak was held to one in 119:16. Brad Marchand was held goalless in the four games he played, limited with an injury. The Rangers’ star forwards were completely neutralized in the Eastern Conference Final, with Mika Zibanejad held without a goal, and Panarin and Chris Kreider managed just one each in a combined 391:29 for the trio.

Granted, McDavid is a different animal (I mean, did you see his goal in Game 6 vs Dallas?), and so is Draisaitl for that matter. Not to mention, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Evan Bouchard have been pretty spectacular as well. Hyman leads all skaters this postseason with 14 goals and the Oilers boast five of the top seven points leaders, including each of the top four.

However, if there’s any team that can shut down McDavid and co., it’s Florida. This will likely be Barkov’s greatest test yet, but he’s been up to the occasion so far.

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Panthers have defeated three top NHL goalies

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
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Skinner was phenomenal in Edmonton’s Western Conference Final-clinching Game 6, stopping 33 of 34 shots from the Stars in a decisive 2-1 victory. The Oilers managed just 10 shots, the fewest of any team to win a Western Conference Final, but were still able to come away with the victory thanks to some phenomenal play from their goaltender.

Since returning to the net in Game 6 versus Vancouver, Skinner has been other-worldly, posting a 6-2 record with a 1.81 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

Unfortunately for Edmonton, Florida knows a thing or two about defeating a hot goalie.

Igor Shestirken posted a .930 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA against the Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final, standing on his head to keep the Rangers alive. However, Florida was able to get just enough by him with their relentless attack.

Shestirken’s not the only world-class goalie that Florida has disposed of on this run. Jeremy Swayman of the Boston Bruins still leads all postseason goalies with 13.3 GSAA (per MoneyPuck), but the Panthers came out on top in six games, averaging 3.2 goals per game and scoring six twice. In the first round, Florida tore through postseason-legend Andrei Vasilevskiy, averaging 4.6 goals per game in the five-game series, and scoring five-plus in each of the last three.

Skinner’s at the top of his game right now, but that’s a situation that Florida is more than familiar with this postseason, and it hasn’t stopped them yet.

And the Panthers goalie has been pretty darn good, too. Sergei Bobrovsky is 12-5 with a 2.20 GAA and .908 save percentage in these playoffs after allowing two goals or fewer in five of six games against the Rangers.

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Panthers third line is difference maker

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at Boston Bruins
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Edmonton’s depth has taken an important leap this season, giving Knoblauch the option of rolling four lines deep into games. Still, they might not be able to match the firepower of Florida’s bottom six, particularly an explosive third line.

Maurice jumbled the lines after falling down two games to one to the Rangers after a second consecutive overtime defeat in then conference final. The Panthers won three straight after the tweaks.

A big part of the line changes was bumping top-line right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and second-line center Anton Lundell down to the third line with Eutu Luostarinen. It’s been a match made in heaven and a unit that’s come up clutch.

Lundell scored the go-ahead goal in Game 5 to make it 2-1 with less than 10 minutes to go (Florida won 3-2), while Tarasenko scored what would prove to be the series winner in Game 6 on a Lundell feed, giving the Panthers, at the time, a 2-0 lead.

Edmonton’s current bottom six (Kane, Janmark, Adam Henrique, Dylan Holloway, Connor Brown, Derek Ryan) has combined for 25 points this postseason. Florida’s third line alone has combined for 24.

That’s on top of a first line that boasts Reinhart and Barkov and a second line with Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett.

The Oilers have the depth to compete, no doubt, but they might not have the offensive capability that Florida does up and down the lineup. Which is incredible to say about a team that has McDavid and Draisaitl leading the way.

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