Carter Verhaeghe and the Florida Panthers will face the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday in Las Vegas. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, June 2 (UPI) -- One NHL franchise will claim its first Stanley Cup at the end of the upcoming best-of-seven game title series. The Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights will meet in Game 1 on Saturday in Las Vegas.
"You dream of playing in the Stanley Cup Final," Panthers defenseman Josh Mahura told reporters Wednesday. "To know it's right around the corner is so exciting for us and our families. Everyone is enjoying it, but obviously there is a job at hand."
Stanley Cup Final games will air on TNT. Puck drop for Game 1 is scheduled for 8 p.m. EDT at T-Mobile Arena.
Game 2 will be Monday in Las Vegas. Games 3 and 4 will be Thursday and June 10 in Sunrise, Fla. Games 5, if necessary, would be June 13 in Las Vegas. Game 6, if necessary, would be June 16 in Sunrise. Game 7, if the series goes that far, would be June 19 in Las Vegas.
Ticket prices for Game 1 ranged from about $260 to more than $8,100 on the secondary market as of Thursday morning. Ticket prices for Game 3 in Sunrise ranged from $424 to more than $20,000.
Sportsbooks favor the Golden Knights to win the title. The 6-year old Golden Knights franchise has been one of the most successful in the NHL since its inception, with two trips to the title series and three treks to the Western Conference finals.
The top-seeded Golden Knights won a franchise-record 51 games in 2022-23. They have yet to log losing season.
The Panthers went 42-32 this season and scraped into the playoffs with a wild-card berth. They will make their second Stanley Cup Final appearance since entering the league in 1993-94.
"We are Western Conference champions," Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill told reporters Tuesday. "We did it in the regular season and now we've done it in the postseason. It's an accomplishment, but we have to set that aside and focus on the bigger goal."
How they got here
Oddsmakers listed the Panthers and Golden Knights among the Top 10 favorites to win the Stanley Cup this preseason.
The Golden Knights raced to a 16-4 start, never had a losing record and ended with a season-best 29-games over .500. They lost to the Winnipeg Jets in their first playoff game, but closed out that series with four-consecutive victories.
They then beat the Edmonton Oilers in seven games to advance to the Western Conference finals.
The Golden Knights won the first three games of that series, but allowed the Dallas Stars to rally back with victories in Games 4 and 5. They then clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final with a 6-0 dimming of the Stars in Game 7 of the conference finals.
The Panthers posted a franchise-record 58 wins in 2021-22, but were a .500 team in mid-January of the 2022-23 campaign. They went on to win 22 of their final 34 games to earn their wild-card playoff entry.
They upset the top-seeded Boston Bruins, who won an NHL record 65 games, in the first round. The Panthers went on to steal the first three games from the Toronto Maple Leafs en route to a second-round series victory. They then swept the top-seeded Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Panthers earned nine days of rest because of their prompt postseason run. The Golden Knights enter Game 1 on four days of rest.
"Guys are excited to get going," Panthers forward Nick Cousins said. "We've had a long layoff and guys have had a chance to get some rest. It should be a good matchup for us."
The Panthers are one of the most clutch teams this postseason. They also are 8-1 on the road and 6-0 in playoff overtime, with a 9-0 mark in that same category since the 2021 postseason.
Star winger Matthew Tkachuk scored three game-winning goals in overtime during the Panthers 2023 playoff run.
Players to watch
Tkachuk is arguably the best American hockey player. He was tied for the sixth-most points (goals plus assists) in the NHL during the regular season. He has the second-most points (21) this postseason, behind only Stars center Roope Hintz (24).
Center Carter Verhaeghe is tied for the ninth-most points among skaters this postseason. Fellow Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov is tied for the 12th-most points among skaters this postseason. Six Panthers players scored at least four times so far in the playoffs.
The Panthers averaged 3.51 goals for and 3.32 goals allowed per game this season. They converted on 22.8% of their power plays and posted a 76% penalty kill. In the playoffs, they stepped up their defense, allowing just 2.69 goals per game. They've scored on 27.9% of their power plays.
The Golden Knights scored 3.26 goals and allowed 2.74 goals per game this season. They also scored on 20.3% of their power plays and owned a 77.4% penalty kill. The Golden Knights offense improved to score 3.65 goals per game this postseason. The defense allowed 2.65 goals per game through 17 postseason games.
Six Golden Knights players rank inside the Top 12 for postseason points among NHL skaters. Jack Eichel leads the way with 18 points, tied for the fourth-most in the league. The Golden Knights forward scored six times and totaled 12 assists in 17 postseason games.
Fellow forwards Jonathan Marchessault (17 points), Ivan Barbashev (15), Mark Stone (15), William Karlsson (14) and Chandler Stephenson (14) are among the other key offensive contributors for the Golden Knights. Karlsson's 10 postseason scores are the second-most this postseason, behind only Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl.
Eichel was the only Golden Knights player who ranked inside the Top 75 in points during the regular season. The Panthers rostered five Top 75 scorers.
Goalies Sergei Bobrovsky of the Panthers and Adin Hill of the Golden Knights have been among the best this postseason at keeping it clean between the pipes. Hill is tied with New Jersey Devils net minder Akira Schmid for the most shutouts (2) this postseason.
He also boasts the best save percentage (.937) among goalies who played in more than four postseason games. Bobrovsky ranks second in the latter category, saving 93.5% of the attempts he faced.
Bobrovsky's 471 total stops are the most among postseason goaltenders. he faced the second-most attempts (504). Hill logged a .915 save percentage in the regular season. Bobrovsky owned a .901 regular-season save percentage.
"Obviously, we've got our hands full," Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We know that Bobrovsky's found his rhythm in there. We will dive into it a little more in the next few days and find tendencies we can hopefully exploit or take away, depending on the situation.
"We're looking forward to it. They've earned their way, we've earned our way."
Game 1: Panthers at Golden Knights at 8 p.m. on TNT
Game 2: Panthers at Golden Knights at 8 p.m. on TNT
Game 3: Golden Knights at Panthers at 8 p.m. on TNT
Game 4: Golden Knights at Panthers at 8 p.m. on TNT
Game 5 (if necessary): Panthers at Golden Knights at 8 p.m. on TNT
Game 6 (if necessary): Golden Knights at Panthers at 8 p.m. on TNT
Game 7 (if necessary): Panthers at Golden Knights at 8 p.m. on TNT