The Stanley Cup Finals stage is set. A lengthy Stanley Cup drought will come to an end this year, as the Florida Panthers battle the Edmonton Oilers for hockey’s ultimate prize. The Oilers have not won the cup since 1990, and the Panthers have never won the cup since joining the NHL in 1994. This is the Oilers first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since their heartbreaking game 7 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. The Panthers are making back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances, after losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in 5 games last season. This season, the Panthers were 2-0 against the Oilers, outscoring them 10-4.

Will Florida get redemption from last year? Or will Edmonton bring the cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993? Let’s take a look at how both teams got here.

Florida Panthers


The Panthers won the Atlantic Division with a record of 52-26-6. They are 12-5 in these playoffs, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and the Presidents’ Trophy winning, New York Rangers. The Panthers started the season banged up. They played without key defensemen, Aaron Ekblad, and Brandon Montour for the first 16 games of the season due to both players undergoing offseason shoulder surgeries. They were also without forward, Sam Bennett for a large stretch this season. Despite these injuries, the Panthers were able to claw their way to a division title, and a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals once again. Florida has yet to face elimination these playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers


The Oilers finished 2nd in the Pacific Division with a record of 49-27-6. They are 12-6 in these playoffs, defeating the LA Kings, Vancouver Canucks, and the Dallas Stars. In late November, the Oilers were 30th place in the NHL. They were seemingly dead in the water, but they stuck together, and found a way to turn their season around. They had a roller coaster of a season. The Oilers went from contenders, to pretenders, back to contenders. They underwent a mid-season coaching change, had a historic 16-game winning streak, and now, find themselves 4 wins away from the Stanley Cup.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at this intriguing matchup.

Goaltending


The Panthers have two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes. The 35-year-old netminder is 12-5 with a 2.20 goals-against average, .908 save percentage, and one shutout in the playoffs. He has also allowed two goals or fewer in 13 of 17 playoff games, including five of the six in the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers. He is proving why he is a former Vezina winner, and a nominee for the award this year.

Stuart Skinner is 11-5 with a 2.50 goals-against-average, .897 save percentage, and one shutout in 16 playoff games. However, He was outstanding against the Stars in the Western Conference Final. He posted a 4-2 record with a 1.91 goals against average and .922 save percentage in that series. In my previous article, I stated that the Dallas Stars had the clear advantage in net. I underestimated Stuart Skinner, and he proved me wrong. Ultimately, he outplayed Jake Oettinger, and his best hockey couldn’t have come at a better time. His .842 save percentage against high danger shots is second best among goalies to start at least five games in the playoffs. Opponent, Sergei Bobrovsky ranked first in that category.

This is a closer goaltending battle then some people realize. Both netminders have the capability to steal games. Ultimately, Bobrovsky’s resume and experience gives Florida a slim advantage in net.

Defense


The Panthers are led defensively by Brandon Montour, Aaron Ekblad, and Gustav Forsling. Forsling is the only Panther to average over 20 minutes of even-strength ice time per game. He is usually on the ice against the opponents best players, so expect him to be matched up against Connor McDavid all series long. When Forsling is on the ice at 5-on-5, the Panthers have controlled roughly 60 per cent of all shot attempts, and have outscored their opponents 15-10 these playoffs.

The Oilers defense does not get the credit they deserve. They can skate, and defend really well. They are led by offensive juggernaut, Evan Bouchard. Bouchard has been incredible these playoffs. He is 3rd in the NHL, and 1st among defensemen with 27 points in 18 games, while being plus 14. He is only 3 points away from becoming the 4th defensemen to reach 30 playoff points in a season, joining Paul Coffee, Brian Leetch, and Al MacInnis.

Coach Knoblauch took out their worst skater in Vincent Desharnais, and replaced him with youngster Philip Broberg. Broberg is a good skater, and can move the puck out of his one zone efficiently. He is playing with a lot of confidence right now. He even scored a massive goal in game 5 against the Stars. Florida is a relentless forechecking, and physical team. Therefore, The Oilers need Broberg’s speed in the lineup to counter that, since he has the ability to break the puck out quickly.

However, the Panthers aggressive forecheck will be too much for the Oilers defense to handle. Expect Florida to create turnovers in the offensive zone and capitalize on them as a result. They have a deeper blueline than the Oilers, and with that said, give the defensive edge to the Panthers.

Forwards


The Panthers forward group is led by Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, and Carter Verhaeghe. Verhaeghe has proven to be a clutch playoff performer. He has scored some huge goals for this team. He has 17 points in 17 games these playoffs. Verhaeghe is also the Panthers’ all-time leading playoff goal scorer, with 24 goals.

However, many eyes will be on Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk knows the Oilers very well as a member of the Calgary Flames. He spent 6 seasons on the Flames. His last game on the team was when the Oilers eliminated the Flames from the playoffs back in 2022. He will get reacquainted with his former foes, and will look to enact some revenge. Expect him to be a dominant player this series.

The Oilers have the star power in Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. They also have elite top 6 wingers in Ryan Nugent Hopkins, and Zach Hyman. Everything starts with their big guns up front, but if the Oilers are going to win this series, they will need major contributions from guys like Evander Kane, and Adam Henrique. The Kane, Henrique, Hollaway line will have to outplay the Luostarinen, Lundell, Tarasenko line at 5 on 5. If they do that, they should have success this series.

If Connor and Leon continue to prove why they are the best players in the league, the Oilers depth should be able to match the depth of the Panthers. Therefore, I am taking McDavid and Draisaitl all day long. Give the offensive advantage to the Oilers.

Special Teams


Edmonton has the best power play during the playoffs. They are 19-for-51 which is clicking at 37.3 percent. They are led by Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl is 1st in the playoffs with 6 power play goals. Teammate Zach Hyman is tied for 2nd with 5. The Oilers also lead the NHL with a 93.9 percent penalty kill efficiency. The Oilers have allowed only 3 power play goals in 49 attempts, and were 14-for-14 on the kill against the Stars. They have killed off 28 consecutive power plays, dating back to game 3 against the Vancouver Canucks in round 2.

Florida is 14-for-60 on the power play these playoffs which is clicking at 23.3 percent.  They are led offensively by Sam Reinhart. Reinhart led the NHL with 27 power play goals during the regular season, including 4 more these playoffs.  The Panthers are 2nd in the playoffs on the penalty kill, behind the Oilers at 88.2 percent. The Panthers shut down the elite Rangers power play, holding them to 1 goal on 15 opportunities. Will they be able to shut down the lethal Oilers power play?

The big question is how will this series be officiated? If there are a lot of calls, that should benefit the Oilers. Edmonton has the best power play, and penalty kill these playoffs. Therefore, give the Oilers the special teams’ advantage.

Prediction


This is a tightly contested matchup between two teams that absolutely deserve to be here. This is a legacy series for both Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. The Stanley Cup is the one trophy that has eluded Connor McDavid so far in his career. He is a 5-time Art Ross winner, 4-time Ted Lindsay winner, 3-time Hart winner, and a Rocket Richard winner. He needs the Stanley Cup to add to his trophy case, and cement his legacy as one of the very best to ever play. For the first time since Gary Bettman became the commissioner of the NHL in 1993, a Canadian team will hoist the Stanley Cup.

Oilers in 6.