Saturday can't come soon enough for the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, who will be battling each other for the right to raise and kiss the Stanley Cup. The Golden Knights are the favorites to win the 2023 Stanley Cup Final, and with that said, here are three reasons why the second-youngest NHL franchise is about to make its dream come true.
4. Balanced attack
Among the chief reasons why the Golden Knights are a scary team to face is their loaded offense. They have great talent from top to bottom. Offensive production is coming from all corners for Vegas, from the Jack Eichel-led first line down to the fourth with guys like Will Carrier, Nicolas Roy, and Keegan Kolesar.
While the Panthers have been heavily reliant on Matthew Tkachuk for offense, as he's scored nine of Florida's 50 goals so far in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Golden Knights have six players with at least six goals in the postseason. Moreover, Vegas carries seven players on the roster with at least 11 playoff points.
William Karlsson leads Vegas with 10 goals, and he's been playing on the third line together with Reilly Smith and Mike Amadio. Speaking of Karlsson, his savvy play both on the attack and on defense will come so handy for the Golden Knights, who will have a target on the back of Tkachuk.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Marchessault is right behind Karlsson with nine goals. The top line of Ivan Barbashev, Jack Eichel, and Marchessault is arguably the best in the entire playoffs, as it is sporting a 60.5% expected goals rate along with 8.9 expected goals for — No. 1 in the playoffs among trios with at least 50 minutes of ice time together.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been hugging the headlines on defense in the playoffs and the Panthers could very well have the advantage in front of the net over Vegas, but there's a lot more to like about the Golden Knights' set of blueliners. Among all defensive pairings in the playoffs with at least 70 minutes of ice time, the Golden Knights have two in the top 10 in terms of expected goals against per 60 minutes. The tandem of Brayden Mcnabb and Shea Theodore is fourth with 1.9, while Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud are eighth with 2.07.
They don't look too intimidating on paper, but Vegas defensemen have been excellent in the playoffs in trying to ease the load off the shoulders of Hill, who's been fantastic himself in the postseason. If Florida needs any more reminder of how effective the Golden Knights' d-men have been over the past weeks, it can just stare at the fact that Vegas cut the best player in the world down to size in the second round with Connor McDavid putting up a relatively subpar performance. In the Western Conference Finals, the Golden Knights also held Dallas Stars forward Rooper Hintz down to just two assists in the last five games of the series.
2. The Golden Knights have been great longer
The Panthers might be the hottest team right now, having just lost once since the conclusion of their massive first-round upset against the Boston Bruins. The question for Florida is how long can it actually sustain its form. The Golden Knights have been terrific themselves in the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they have been playing at this level for the most part in the second half of the 2022-23 NHL campaign. Vegas went 22-4-5 in their final 31 games of the regular season, during which they posted a 105.3 PDO. Meanwhile, the Panthers went 18-10-2 in their last 30 games of the regular season along with a 100.7 PDO.
1. Don't forget about Adin Hill
As mentioned earlier, Bobrovsky is having an impressive run in the playoffs. But don't sleep on Hill, either. When it is all said and done in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final, Hill could potentially have a much better overall performance than his counterpart in Florida. Laurent Brossoit started as the No. 1 goalie of the Golden Knights in the playoffs, but Hill has taken over that role.
He was the one who patrolled the crease for the Golden Knights when they went up against the juggernaut offense of the Oilers in the West semis. In five games against McDavid and company, Hill allowed just nine goals on 136 shots faced for a .934 saves percentage. He proved himself again in the following series versus the Stars, as he surrendered 12 goals on 197 shots for a .939 saves percentage. He also had two shutouts in that series, including in the Golden Knights' 6-0 win in the series-clinching win in Game 6. All told, Hill has a 7-3 record, 2.07 GAA, and .937 SV% in 11 starts in the playoffs.