Panthers to play Golden Knights or Stars in Stanley Cup Final

The Florida Panthers will play the Vegas Golden Knights or the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Panthers eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference Final with a 4-3 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. They also defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round and advanced to the conference final with a five-game victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Florida (42-32-8), which finished as the second wild card from the East, will start Game 1 of the Cup Final on the road because Vegas (51-22-9) and Dallas (47-21-14) each had a better regular-season record. Vegas leads that best-of-7 series, 3-0.

“Kind of that similar feel of being the underdog and trying to prove people wrong again,” said forward Matthew Tkachuk, who scored the game-winner Wednesday with 4.9 seconds left in the third period. “We know what we have in [the locker room]. We know how to play, we know the right way to play, we know what makes us successful. And being in it with the guys and seeing the belief and seeing just the calmness to us is really something special.” 

The Panthers lost their only other Cup Final appearance, getting swept by the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.

Tkachuk leads the Panthers in the playoffs with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists), including three overtime goals and the game-winner on a power play with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation in Game 4 against Carolina. Carter Verhaeghe has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and Aleksander Barkov has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists).

Sergei Bobrovsky has started the past 13 games for the Panthers and is 11-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Alex Lyon, who started the first three postseason games for the Panthers, is 1-2 with a 3.26 GAA and .902 save percentage.

“It’s just so fun being at the rink right now,” Tkachuk said. “We’ve got a few weeks left of this. We talked about it in the room, it’s going to be the best few weeks of our lives, hopefully. It’s something that we’re all really excited for.”

The Golden Knights won the first round against the Winnipeg Jets in five games and the second round against the Edmonton Oilers in six. Vegas is seeking to advance to the Cup Final for the second time in its history and first since its inaugural season in 2017-18 when it lost to the Washington Capitals in five games.

Dallas won the first round against the Minnesota Wild in six games and defeated the Seattle Kraken in seven in the second round. The Stars are looking to advance to the Cup Final for the fourth time since relocating from Minnesota for the 1993-94 season and first time since 2020, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. The Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, defeating the Buffalo Sabres in six games.

Florida was 1-1-0 against Vegas this season, losing 4-2 on the road Jan. 12 and winning 2-1 at home March 7. Barkov and Nick Cousins each had a goal and an assist in the two games, and Bobrovsky started each, allowing four goals on 55 shots (2.02 GAA, .927 save percentage).

Jack Eichel had two points (one goal, one assist) against the Panthers in the regular season, and Keegan Kolesar had two assists. Adin Hill allowed three goals on 73 shots in the two games (1.53 GAA, .959 save percentage).

The Panthers were 0-2-0 against the Stars this season, getting outscored 11-5 in two losses, 6-4 at home Nov. 17 and 5-1 on the road Jan. 8. Verhaeghe had two goals and an assist, and Tkachuk had a goal and two assists. Sam Bennett had three assists. Bobrovsky allowed four goals on 11 shots before being relieved in the 6-4 loss. Spencer Knight, who is currently in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, stopped 45 of 50 shots and lost each game (one start).

Jason Robertson had two goals and an assist against the Panthers in the regular season, and Jamie Benn and Ty Dellandrea each had a goal and two assists. Nils Lundkvist and Roope Hintz each scored twice. Jake Oettinger made 27 saves in the 5-1 win. He made 19 saves in relief in a 6-4 victory when Scott Wedgewood was injured after making 21 saves.