Last season, Matthew Tkachuk toiled for the Calgary Flames. Two seasons ago, No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel skated for the Buffalo Sabres.
Tkachuk’s Florida Panthers and Eichel’s Vegas Golden Knights will square off tonight in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Las Vegas. If form holds true, expect something special from these talented players.
Big events often are decided by big names. It’s just funny that way. The bigger the stage, the better the performance from those certain players. Just to get to the finals, the star players probably led the way.
Restricted free agent Tkachuk, coming off a career-high 104 points, was traded in July to Florida for forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2025. Tkachuk signed an eight-year contract.
The Flames did not make the playoffs this season.
Buffalo traded Eichel in November 2021 to Vegas for Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a future first-round draft pick and a future second-rounder. Vegas will also get a future third-rounder.
The Sabres did not make the playoffs last season or this season.
Tkachuk has responded to South Florida life. He scored 40 goals and 69 assists and is plus-29 this season. In the Eastern Conference finals against Carolina, Tkachuk scored three game-winning goals in four games —two in overtime, the other with less than five seconds to play. In Game 1, he scored in the fourth overtime.
He has established himself as a favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs — along with Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
Eichel has 41 goals and 50 assists in 101 games for Vegas. He has six goals in his first taste of the playoffs.
Conn Smythe Trophy Winners
Check out the list of Conn Smythe winners since 2000. No checking-line guys here …
2022: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
2021: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2020: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2019: Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
2018: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
2017: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2016: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2015: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
2014: Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings
2013: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
2012: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
2011: Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
2010: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
2009: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
2008: Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings
2007: Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks
2006: Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
2004: Brad Richards, Tampa Bay Lightning
2003: Jean-Sebastien Guguere, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
2002: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
2001: Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche
2000: Scott Stevens, New Jersey Devils
Only J.S. Giguere in 2003 was on the losing team.
We think Florida will prevail in six games in the series. Florida has been the underdog in its first three series and is the underdog against Vegas. We expect a crackling good series. Both teams are playing well. Both teams are rested.
Both franchises enjoyed early success since their inception. Vegas made the finals in its first year of existence in 2017-18, losing in five games to the Capitals.
The Panthers made the finals in 1996, their third year. They beat the Flyers along the way, 4-2 in conference semifinals. They were swept by the Avalanche in the finals.
Two of the last three Cups have been won a Florida team. The Panthers can make it three of four.
Who: Florida Panthers at Vegas Golden Knights
What: Stanley Cup Final
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
How Florida got here: Defeated Boston in 5; defeated Toronto in 5; Carolina in 4.
How Vegas got here: Defeated Winnipeg in 5; defeated Edmonton in 6; defeated Dallas in 6
Next game: Monday, Florida at Vegas, 8 p.m., TNT
Petes Lose In Memorial Cup
The Peterborough Petes, with two Flyers prospects, lost in the Memorial Cup semifinals to the Seattle Thunderbirds, 4-1.
J.P. Avon and Brian Zanetti were held off the scoreboard. Seattle will play the Quebec Remparts in Sunday’s championship game.
Flyers, In Case You Missed It:
Should Flyers try for a risky pick in the draft?
Ex-Flyer Nick Cousins can win a Cup with Panthers.
Untouchables on Flyers? Don’t think so.
Around The National Hockey Network:
Vegas Hockey Now: When the Golden Knights realized they could win the Stanley Cup.
Montreal Hockey Now: Why the Canadiens signed gritty forward Michael Pezzetta.
Detroit Hockey Now: Bruins facing reality they can’t afford former Red Wing Tyler Bertuzzi.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now: Penguins coach Mike Sullivan knows his team needs speed.
Boston Hockey Now: Will Patrice Bergeron retire after 19 seasons with the Bruins?
Calgary Hockey Now: General manager Craig Conroy says Flames will have a captain after two seasons without one.