2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals Preview: Florida’s Deep Run, 2020 Third-Round Rematch Among Headlines

Photo: The Daily Faceoffs

The third round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs gets underway on Thursday night and all four qualifiers it features come from the sunbelt states for the first time in NHL history. The Vegas Golden Knights, who have made it this far for the fourth time in their first six seasons of existence, will face the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final and the Carolina Hurricanes will square off with the Florida Panthers, who have made it this deep for the first time since 1996, in the East. NoVa Caps previews each series:


Eastern Conference Final

Graphic: @FlaPanthers

Western Conference Final

Graphic: @DallasStars


Eastern Conference Final: TNT for every game

Western Conference Final: ESPN for Games 1, 3-4, and 6-7; ABC/ESPN+ for Games 2, 5

Eastern Conference Final: Metropolitan No. 1 Carolina vs. Wild Card No. 2 Florida

Regular-season leaders:


  • C Sebastian Aho (36 goals)
  • C Martin Necas (43 assists, 71 points)
  • D Brent Burns (43 assists, 23:12 average TOI/game)
  • G Frederik Andersen (21 wins)


  • C Carter Verhaeghe (42 goals)
  • LW Matthew Tkachuk (40 goals, 69 assists, 109 points)
  • D Brandon Montour (24:07 average TOI/game)
  • G Sergei Bobrovsky (24 wins)

Postseason leaders:


  • Aho (five goals, 10 points)
  • RW Jesper Fast (five goals)
  • LW Jordan Martinook (seven assists, 10 points)
  • Burns (23:55 average TOI/game)
  • Andersen (.931 save percentage)


  • Montour (six goals, 25:55 average TOI/game)
  • RW Sam Reinhart (six goals)
  • LW Matthew Tkachuk (11 assists, 16 points)
  • Bobrovsky (.918 save percentage)

How They Got Here


  • First round: defeated New York Islanders (six games)
  • Second round: defeated New Jersey Devils (five games)


  • First round: defeated Boston Bruins (seven games)
  • Second round: defeated Toronto Maple Leafs (five games)

Carolina enters this series with the lowest goals-against average (2.55) among teams that qualified for the second round and the best overall penalty kill (90%) by over 4%. Florida has also tightened up defensively, limiting Toronto to just two goals in each game of the previous round, after allowing 3.86 per game and killing just 59.3% of their penalties vs. Boston.

Florida has two of the top-10 scorers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the only team who is still alive that can say so, with Tkachuk (fifth) and left-wing Carter Verhaeghe (five goals, 12 points — tied for ninth). Meanwhile, no one for Carolina ranks among the top-20, though the team ranks second among divisional finalists with an average of 3.64 goals-per-game. Carolina has made it this far without left-wings Andrei Svechnikov (ACL) and Max Pacioretty (Achilles) but will it be enough against Florida’s streaking top stars? Carolina is expected to get left-wing Teuvo Teravainen, who fractured his hand in Game 2 vs. New York, back for Thursday’s Game 1.

The top storyline heading into this series is arguably behind the bench as Florida head coach Paul Maurice spent parts of 13 seasons over two stints as Carolina/the Hartford Whalers head coach. Maurice led current Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour’s team in his final two playing seasons in Raleigh before retiring. Brind’Amour joined Maurice’s coaching staff as an assistant for the 2011-12 season before Maurice was fired 25 games into it. In addition, the series will feature all of the Staal brothers with Carolina captain Jordan in addition Florida defenseman Marc and center Eric, who played 12 seasons in Carolina (2003-16) which included a Stanley Cup in 2006.

Both starting goaltenders are rolling as Andersen is 5-0 with a 1.80 goals-against average in six games and Bobrovsky is 7-2 with a 2.82 goals-against average in 10. Carolina is coming off of a series where New Jersey starting goaltender Akira Schmid earned an .874 save percentage and a 4.23 goals-against average. How will Carolina do while facing a goaltender who has been much better throughout the postseason? Sure, they got past New York but they scored only 2.95 (22nd) goals-per-game during the regular season. Florida has had one of the best offenses in the league over the past three years in addition to Bobrovsky thriving heading into the series.

Each team has battled through adversity dating back to late in the regular season and we could be in for a long series.

Odds to win (according to BetMGM) – Carolina: -140; Florida: +115

Prediction: Florida in 7

Western Conference Final: Pacific No. 1 Vegas vs. Central No. 2 Dallas

Regular-season leaders:


  • RW Jonathan Marchessault (28 goals)
  • C Chandler Stephenson (49 assists, 65 points)
  • C Jack Eichel (27 goals, 66 points)
  • D Alex Pietrangelo (23:58 average TOI/game)
  • G Logan Thompson (21 wins)


  • LW Jason Robertson (46 goals, 63 assists, 109 points)
  • C Roope Hintz (37 goals)
  • D Miro Heiskanen (62 assists, 25:29 average TOI/game)
  • G Jake Oettinger (37 wins)

Postseason leaders:


  • Eichel (six goals, eight assists, 14 points)
  • Stephenson (six goals)
  • Pietrangelo (24:14 average TOI/game)
  • G Adin Hill (.934 save percentage)


  • Hintz (nine goals, 10 assists, 19 points)
  • Robertson (10 assists)
  • Heiskanen (28:15 average TOI/game)
  • Oettinger (.903 save percentage)

How They Got Here


  • First round: defeated Winnipeg Jets (five games)
  • Second round: defeated Edmonton Oilers (six games)


  • First round: defeated Minnesota Wild (six games)
  • Second round: defeated Seattle Kraken (seven games)

In a rematch of the 2020 Western Conference Final, which was won by Dallas in five games, both teams enter the series as two of the highest scoring squads (Vegas, 3.73 – most among remaining teams; Dallas, 3.62 – fifth among all 16 who qualified) and having given up at least three per game (Vegas – on the dot, Dallas – 3.08) in the postseason.

While both teams have had similar success as a whole, Dallas has by far had the more success on special teams with a 31.7% power-play efficiency (the best among remaining teams) and an 83.3% penalty-killing rate (tied for third among 16). Meanwhile, Vegas’ 17.5% power-play conversion ratio is only 12th while only the Los Angeles Kings (43.8%) have done worse than their 60% penalty-killing efficiency. In fact, Vegas’ numbers are unacceptable and they could have a very difficult time going forward if they do not turn it around.

Both Thompson (undisclosed) and goaltender Laurent Brossoit (lower-body) are currently injured for Vegas, so the net appears to be Hill’s after he got an opportunity and ran with it against Edmonton. However, Hill faced only a  12.22 expected goals-against over those five games and Dallas’ offense is arguably deeper than Edmonton’s, which is boosted by a two-headed monster down the middle. For Dallas, Oettinger’s save percentage is down from the .919 rate that he turned in during 62 games over the regular season. Though his lack of rest throughout the season may explain it, Dallas could have a big advantage in goal if Oettinger returns to his regular-season form.

Dallas is getting scoring throughout its lineup. Even though Hintz leads everyone else on his team by at least seven points, Dallas has five players with at least 10 (Hintz, Robertson: 12, C Max Domi: 11, LWs Joe Pavelski/Jamie Benn: 10). In addition, center Tyler Seguin, former Golden Knights right-wing Evgenii Dadonov, and Heiskanen each of nine. 21-year-old blueliner Thomas Harley, who has just 40 career NHL regular-season games of experience, has a goal and seven points. In fact, all 20 Dallas skaters to suit up this postseason have found the scoresheet. Vegas’ top forwards (Eichel, RW Mark Stone: 12, Stephenson/Marchessault: 10, C Ivan Barbashev: nine, C William Karlsson/RW Reilly Smith: eight) have been productive this postseason but not to the degree of Dallas’ top players. Vegas could use more from defenseman Shea Theodore, who has just five assists in 10 postseason games.

With the uncertainty Vegas faces in goal and Dallas, who is led by former Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer, rolling, Dallas could very well be heading into this series a step ahead.

Odds to win – Vegas: -140; Dallas: +115

Prediction: Dallas in 6

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
This entry was posted in AHL and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals Preview: Florida’s Deep Run, 2020 Third-Round Rematch Among Headlines

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jason Robertson has been ice cold this playoffs. If he heats up, Dallas wins the Stanley Cup

  2. Jon Sorensen says:

    I’m taking the dogs, Florida and Dallas.

    Who ya got?

    • Prevent Defense says:

      FLA players feed off their Chip-on-Shoulder head coach, Paul Maurice. He re-engineered Run-and-Gun Panthers into disciplined check-and-hit physical team. Guided them through the process even “waiting” until late in the regular season for it all to jell. Very effective against BOS and NJD. CAR won’t be able to match this attitude. FLA in Six

      VGK of course is the darling of the international wagering industry! They came close four seasons ago. They won’t miss out this time. VGK in Six with lots and lots and LOTS of sweetheart referee calls

      We will recalibrate before the SC Finals

    • Harrison Brown says:

      With you

  3. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

  4. Prevent Defense says:

    Tkachuk, with 12 seconds left in Fourth Overtime
    Add some DESTINY to this series! Way to go FLA!
    It’s 1:57 AM EDT 19 May 23

  5. novafyre says:

    4 teams left. Who is left out?

    All of Canada. Not a single Canadian team. How long since a Canadian team won the Cup? 1993? That’s 29 years (no Cup the lockout year)

    Every state/district north of the Vegas Raleigh line (they are the same latitude):
    Virginia, DC, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, 2/3 of California, and most of Nevada.

    These are the Sunbelt Conference Finals. Vegas, Dallas, Sunrise, and Raleigh.

    What kind of winter do those cities have? What has made hockey so good there?

    OK, we get the Coyotes, and Atlanta tried and failed. But if we look at moving the Dogs or expand, can we blame the NHL for looking south?

Leave a Reply