So, we have a Sun Belt Stanley Cup Final.
No Detroit, or Boston, or Montreal, or Toronto— especially not Toronto — no Flyers. We have Florida and Vegas, two strong hockey clubs playing well at the right time.
Either way, we’ll have a first-time Stanley Cup champion.
Game 1 is Saturday in Las Vegas, where Florida has never won a game, going 0-4-1. This season, Vegas won at home, 4-2, on Jan. 12. Florida won at home, 2-1, on March 7.
Can’t imagine there will be much carryover from the regular season games. This is a different Florida team. The Panthers have two legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidates in forward Matthew Tkachuk and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Tkachuk had the winning goal in three games of the Carolina series — two in overtime. Bobrovsky, simply, has been brilliant.
Tkachuk is the Panthers’ leading scorer with nine goals and 12 assists.
Vegas is a team with balanced scoring. Six players have at least six goals. Former Sabres No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel is the leading scorer with six goals and 12 assists.
One quirk about this series. Both teams will start goaltenders on Saturday who were not the starting goalies to begin the playoffs. Vegas’ Laurent Brossoit played eight games and went 5-2 before being injured. Adin Hill took over, played the next 11 games and went 7-3.
Bobrovsky missed the beginning of the playoffs recovering from non-Covid illness. Fellow former Flyer Alex Lyon went 6-1 down the stretch to help Florida sneak into the final playoff spot.
Lyon played the first three games against the Bruins before the Panthers went back to Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky in goal, the Panthers are 11-2 in the postseason.
Game 1 will be a matchup of a well-rested team in Florida, which hasn’t played since May 24, and Vegas, which clinched its semifinal series over Dallas on Monday. Will there be rust? Will it matter?
At this point in the season, I’d rather have the more rested team. Remember, Florida started the playoffs with an amazing, seven-game series win over the Bruins, the NHL’s best team this season.
Since trailing the Bruins, 3-1, the Panthers are an astounding 11-1.
There’s just something magical about the Panthers this postseason. Give me Florida in six games. And add the names of former Flyers Sergei Bobrovsky, Nick Cousins, Radko Gudas and Alex Lyon onto the Stanley Cup.
Saturday, June 3, Game 1: Florida at Vegas, 8 p.m., TNT
Monday, June 5, Game 2: Florida at Vegas, 8 p.m., TNT
Thursday, June 8, Game 3: Vegas at Florida, 8 p.m., TNT
Saturday, June 10, Game 4: Vegas at Florida, 8 p.m., TNT
*Tuesday, June 13, Game 5, Florida at Vegas, 8 p.m., TNT
*Friday, June 16, Game 6: Vegas at Florida, 8 p.m., TNT
*Monday, June 19, Game 7, Florida at Vegas, 8 p.m., TNT
Flyers, In Case You Missed It:
Flyers shouldn’t trade goalie Carter Hart, their most important asset.
No reason for Flyers to sign Montreal’s Cole Caufield to offer sheet.
Around The National Hockey Network:
Vegas Hockey Now: Golden Knights score three goals in first 14 minutes to crush the Stars and advance to Stanley Cup finals.
Florida Hockey Now: Panthers are OK with plenty of rest before Stanley Cup finals.
Montreal Hockey Now: Canadiens have decision to make about goalie Samuel Montembeault, who just won a gold medal for Canada at World Championships.
Detroit Hockey Now: When Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman goes shopping for a goalie this offseason, he will find a thin market.
Boston Hockey Now: Former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy leads Vegas to Cup finals.
Los Angeles Hockey Now: Check out the Kings’ top 10 prospects.