Conference Finals Predictions – 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs
After going four-for-eight with my first-round predictions, I went a pathetic one-for-four in the second round. So, folks, don’t base your Conference Finals bets on my prognostications. Remember, this is all just for fun.
Anyway, let’s see if I can have better luck this time around. Feel free to point and laugh in the comments section. Bet responsibly, kids. A fool and his money and all that…
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Carolina Hurricanes vs Florida Panthers
The Hurricanes got here by eliminating the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils while the Panthers upset the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite the absence of sidelined forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Max Pacioretty and Teuvo Teravainen, the Hurricanes got production from depth forwards Jordan Martinook, Jesper Fast and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Sebastian Aho remains the linchpin of their offense.
Defense and goaltending are the Hurricanes’ strengths. Led by Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns, their blueline has contributed offensively while shutting down opposing scorers. Their 90.0 penalty-killing percentage is the postseason’s best. Frederik Andersen was superb between the pipes against the Devils. The Canes’ 2.55 goals-against per game is the second-lowest.
The Panthers’ physical style and gritty offense were critical factors in getting them to this point. Matthew Tkachuk has risen to the occasion as a playoff performer, Brandon Montour provides invaluable production from the blueline while forwards Aleksander Barkov, Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Anthony Duclair have proven difficult to contain.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been solid in the Panthers’ net since the midpoint of their first-round series against Boston. Their overall defensive game did a fine job neutralizing the Bruins and Leafs best scorers.
It’s going to be an interesting matchup between Carolina’s strong defense and Florida’s aggressive forecheck. Considering how games become tighter-checking affairs as the playoffs roll along, that could favor the Hurricanes. PREDICTION: Hurricanes in 6.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Dallas Stars vs Vegas Golden Knights
The Stars reached this point by beating the Minnesota Wild and the Seattle Kraken. The Vegas Golden Knights bested the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers.
This is the fourth time in six years Vegas has reached the Western Conference Finals. It’s also the second time since 2020 that they will face the Stars, who bested them the last time around.
Vegas’ 3.73 goals-per-game average is the second-highest in this postseason. Leading scorer Jack Eichel is thriving in his first-ever NHL playoffs. Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson have also flourished in these playoffs.
The Golden Knights possess a solid defense anchored by Alex Pietrangelo. Their goaltending has been decimated by injuries yet Adin Hill replaced the sidelined Laurent Brossoit midway through the Oilers series and backstopped them to victory.
Led by Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, the Stars have plenty of scoring punch of their own. Regular-season scoring leader Jason Robertson only has two goals but collected 10 assists thus far. Veterans Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and trade-deadline pickup Max Domi have also been key contributors.
Dallas’ starting goaltender Jake Oettinger has had a handful of difficult games but has also shown that he can bounce back well. Led by Miro Heiskanen, the Stars have given up the third-fewest shots (29.4) and possess the third-best penalty kill.
Both clubs have plenty of talent and roster depth so this series could go the distance. Defense should make the difference here. If Oettinger remains sharp, this should go Dallas’ way. PREDICTION: STARS IN SEVEN.