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  • Tony Fiorello

TONY’S TAKE – 2023 EASTERN AND WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL PREVIEW

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Welcome to this year’s editions of the NHL’s Eastern and Western Conference Finals, where four teams will battle for the right to become the final two squads to square off for the most famous trophy in sports.

This season represents a breath of fresh air. Gone are many of the league’s annual powerhouses such as Tampa Bay, Colorado, Boston, Edmonton etc. and in their place are teams from the NHL’s so-called Sun Belt – the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights.

Throughout the postseason, Buffalo Sports Page will provide you with series previews and predictions from the start of round one through the finals. Previews will become more in-depth as the playoffs roll along, but for now here is our analysis of the conference finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Carolina Hurricanes (52-21-9, 113 points) vs. Florida Panthers (42-32-8, 92 points)

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 11: The Carolina Hurricanes celebrate with the storm surge after defeating the New Jersey Devils in Game Five of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena on May 11, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)


For the first time since the team moved to Raleigh from Hartford, the Carolina Hurricanes have reached the postseason for a fifth consecutive year. General manager Don Waddell and coach Rod Brind’Amour lead a team characterized by a combination of young (Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei) and old (Brent Burns, Jordan Staal). That mix has churned out positive results and the goaltending duo of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta have brought stability to the Canes’ crease. However, injuries are starting to pile up as key contributors Teuvo Teravainen, Andre Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty are dealing with significant ailments.

The Hurricanes are in the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in five years and the fifth time in franchise history. They’ve gotten this far by downing the New York Islanders in six games and the New Jersey Devils in five.

TORONTO, ON – MAY 12: Matthew Tkachuk #19 and Marc Staal #18 of the Florida Panthers celebrate winning the series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Five of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scotiabank Arena on May 12, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)


Florida is playoff-bound for the fourth straight year (the first time in franchise history that’s happened), and the appointment of the well-traveled Paul Maurice to replace the tandem of Andrew Brunette and future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville has given the Panthers some much-needed guidance behind the bench. Maurice inherited a team bolstered at forward by Selke Trophy-winner Alex Barkov and gritty Matthew Tkachuk, supplemented by quality depth in Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Anton Lundell and Sam Bennett. Defensively the Panthers are held down by Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour. In goal the aging Sergei Bobrovsky has taken over starting duties in net while understudy Spencer Knight has been in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program since February and Alex Lyon has replaced Knight on the team’s roster.

This season is just the second in the team’s existence that Florida has reached the conference final – joining the 1995-96 team, which got to the Final in just their third year. President’s Trophy winners a year ago, the Panthers reached this point by upsetting the record-setting Boston Bruins in seven games and defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in five.

PREDICTION

Hurricanes in seven. This series is going to be a dogfight, but we think Carolina’s stifling defensive system – and better play in goal – will be the difference makers against Florida.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Vegas Golden Knights (51-22-9, 111 points) vs. Dallas Stars (47-21-14, 108 points)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – OCTOBER 13: The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks at T-Mobile Arena on October 13, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Zak Krill/2022 NHLI)


The Golden Knights are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence and are again one of the better outfits in the Western Conference. Led by William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, the Golden Knights have augmented their core group with experienced pros like Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel, Shea Theodore and Chandler Stephenson and are a team that relies on speed and a strong forechecking game. Coach Bruce Cassidy has kept this team on course while former King Jonathan Quick, Laurent Brossoit, Logan Thompson and Adin Hill have taken turns trying to fill the hole left by Robin Lehner – who has missed all of 2022-23 due to a hip injury.

This is the fourth time in the team’s six-year history that they’ve gotten this far, and beat the Winnipeg Jets in five games and the Edmonton Oilers in six to get here.

DALLAS, TX MAY 15: The Dallas Stars celebrate a win against the Seattle Kraken in Game Seven of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 15, 2023, in Dallas, Texas (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)


The Dallas Stars have continued their strong play by reaching the postseason for the sixth time in the last 10 years. Older forwards like 38-year-old Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin (31) are still steady point producers as they age, and captain Jamie Benn has had his highest-scoring season in five years. Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson each put up career-bests in multiple scoring categories and defensemen Miro Heiskanen, Ryan Suter and Esa Lindell have continued to perform well on the back end. 24-year-old Jake Oettinger has been stellar in goal for coach Peter DeBoer and general manager Jim Nill, and recent pickups Mason Marchment, Max Domi and Evgenii Dadonov have been rejuvenated in the playoffs after underwhelming performances in the regular season.

2022-23 is the second time in four years the Stars have reached the Western Conference Final, the sixth time since the team moved from Minnesota to Dallas in 1993 and – going back to their first year of existence in 1967-68 – the 12th time they have been among the league’s final four teams standing. Additionally DeBoer is appearing in his sixth conference final in the last 12 years (2011-12 New Jersey Devils, ‘15-16 and ’18-19 San Jose Sharks, ’19-20 and ’20-21 Vegas Golden Knights), and he and his team have reached this round by knocking off the Minnesota Wild in six games and edging the Seattle Kraken in seven.

PREDICTION

Dallas in six. In this rematch of the 2020 West Final, the Stars’ depth – which we think is a tad better than Vegas’ – and their goaltending (which is a huge advantage) will be the deciding factors here.

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