Around the NHL: All-Sunbelt Conference Finals with Dallas, Vegas, Carolina, and Florida to kick off on Thursday
Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
The second round is over, and sadly the Oilers didn’t advance.
As you may know, the last time a team currently in the playoffs won the Stanley Cup was in 2006, when the Carolina Hurricanes beat… yeah. Either way, this iteration of the Conference Finals has to be the wildest since the 2019 playoffs, when Boston, Carolina, St. Louis, and San Jose battled for the chance to win a cup.
Let’s look at how all of the Semi-Final rounds wrapped up…
The Golden Knights beat the Oilers 4-2:
All good things must come to an end, as they say.
On Sunday evening, the Oilers were bounced from the playoffs after losing 5-2 to the Knights on home ice. After such a promising end to the regular season, it was quite disappointing that they only finished with six of the 16 wins needed to hoist the cup. In the post-game article, I went more in-depth on what went wrong with that particular game, as well as the series and playoffs as a whole.
The short version is that Edmonton had an issue with holding leads after the first period, and even the few minutes that followed. It seemed that they either jumped out to a huge lead, or they allowed a goal within three minutes, especially in the Vegas series.
Moreover, the top six (aside from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) did not show up. Kane and Hyman looked to be battling injury, while Nuge was nearly invisible after a career-high 104 points in the regular season. It’s odd when those three are outplayed by Ryan McLeod, Derek Ryan, and Warren Foegele, who has been dealing with a wrist injury since February.
The Oilers also were by far the worse team in terms of five-on-five play, and defence and goaltending was shaky at best for the majority of the games in the second series.
One aspect I haven’t seen a lot of people talk about is just how good the Golden Knights are. Don’t forget that this is the team with the best regular season in the West. Furthermore, they magically got healthy in the playoffs *cough* cap circumvention *cough*, which gave them a boost against the Oilers.
Also, Laurent Brossoit going down with an injury was a huge turning point in the series, as Adin Hill badly outplayed Stuart Skinner.
There were a lot of things that went wrong, but I wouldn’t expect big changes heading into the 2023-24 season.
The Stars beat the Kraken 4-3:
For ten games, whatever the Dallas Stars did, the Oilers matched. For every Stars’ win, the Oilers would immediately follow that with a win. Same for every loss.
Well, that changed in Game 5 of the second round, as Dallas went up 3-2 in that series, while the Oilers fell in Vegas to the brink of elimination. Technically, they did match Dallas’ feat in Game 6, but that was a loss, which we covered in the section above.
Now, the NHL has a battle of the two desert teams, which is great for the growth of the sport, but I don’t imagine the ratings will do well.
This past season, Vegas lost all three games they had against the Stars, with two of them coming in overtime.
As it stands, Adin Hill has the best save percentage amongst goaltenders still remaining in the playoffs (.934), while Jake Oettinger is the only goaltender with all of his team’s wins (that still remain).
We’ll see how this plays out.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
The Panthers beat the Maple Leafs 4-1:
The Leafs finished with one less win in these playoffs than the Oilers, but from puck drop in Game 1, they never had a chance.
The other Canadian team in the playoffs (at the time) outplayed the Panthers on home ice in Games 1 and 2. However, the Panthers are a team of destiny, as they barely squeaked into the playoffs, came back from a 3-1 deficit against one of the best regular seasons of all time, and then knocked off the Leafs in easy fashion.
Once Sam Reinhart buried that wrap-around in overtime in Game 3, the Leafs were playing on borrowed time, even if they won Game 4 due to an amazing Joseph Woll performance. With that being said, Sergei Bobrovsky out-duelled the young goaltender, amassing a .943 save percentage in the five games he played. The Leafs were goalied.
It’s Florida’s first Conference Final since 1996, where they went all the way to the Stanley Cup final, only to lose in four to the Colorado Avalanche. However, they are a team of destiny, they are my pick to win the cup.
The Hurricanes beat the Devils 4-1:
Just what in the heck was this series?
Prior to the start of the series, I noted that Carolina had the least number of goals of the team remaining, and then they went on to score 24 goals in just five games, while allowing just 9 (four of which came in one game?).
I expected New Jersey to put up more of a fight, but man, they had a disappointing end to their season, offering no pushback to the storming Hurricanes.
Despite the many goals scored by the Hurricanes in the Semi-Finals, their top goal scorers are Sebastian Aho and Jordan Martinook, who both have ten points each. For context, Mikko Rantanen, whose Avalanche were eliminated in the first round, is tied in points.
Facing a hot goaltender in Bobrovsky is much different than facing a young goaltender in Akira Schmid. Bobrovsky has already shown he can steal a series, and the Hurricanes have shown that their goal-scoring can run dry at points.
With that being said, they have a good goaltender in Frederik Andersen, who is tied for the third-highest save percentage in the playoffs (.931).
It should be a fun series, but I have Florida winning this series and the Stanley Cup.
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