2023 Stanley Cup Final preview

June 3, 2023
The NHL’s Florida Panthers meet the Vegas Golden Knights for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final tonight at 8 p.m. ET, with both squads hoping to nab the hardest trophy in sports for the first time in (their admittedly short) franchise history.
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2023 Stanley Cup Final preview
Source: The Stanley Cup/Twitter

🏒 The history

After eight months of intense competition, three grueling playoff seriesand countless hours of hard work, just two teams remain in the hunt for the coveted Stanley Cup: the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights.

Originally awarded by Lord Stanley in 1893, the Stanley Cup is touted as both the oldest and the hardest-to-win trophy in North American sports. Despite being carefully guarded by its full-time “Keeper,” the Cup has still been lost, has held many a child and remains the greatest drinking party companion for those who earn the right to hoist it.

  • And the post-win celebration lasts all summer. After the winning team’s victory parade, each player spends a day with good ol’ Stanley and can show off his engraved name on the Cup to family, friends, and fans.

🐱 Florida Panthers: The underdog cats

How they got here: A whole lot of upsets. After barely squeaking into the postseason, the No. 8 seed Panthers eliminated the NHL record–setting Boston Bruins, the surging Toronto Maple Leafs, and swept the stout Carolina Hurricanes to reach just their second-ever Stanley Cup Final. Never count out these comeback cats.

The difference maker: Without a doubt, the aforementioned winger Matthew Tkachuk, who’s been the definition of clutch with three game-winners and nine total goals this postseason. After a surprising early exit in last year’s playoffs, the Panthers brought Tkachuk to Florida as part of a blockbuster offseason trade, and it’s clearly playing off.

The impact player: A back-up turned brick wall, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has held it down between the pipes since getting a chance in Game 3 of Florida’s first round series. Bobrovsky boasts a stellar .935 save percentage, the second-best in the postseason.

Leading the charge: Besides new head coach Paul Maurice, who else but their captain, Aleksander Barkov. The standout center has already notched a career-high 14 postseason points, but as the team’s longest tenured player, it’s his leadership that’s making the difference in this Cinderella run. Aye-aye, captain.

🃏 Vegas Golden Knights: The golden misfits

How they got here: Hellbent on redemption after missing the playoffs for the first time last year, the Golden Knights’ sixth season has looked remarkably like its first. Much like in 2018, Vegas finished atop the Pacific Division with an impressive 51 wins and have since plowed through their postseason competition to make it to the Final. Spooky.

The difference maker: To understand the Golden Knights, all you need to do is check out their team motto: it hurts to win. No one (literally) embodies this more than defenseman Alec Martinez, who has 44 blocks this postseason, repeatedly throwing himself in front of the puck for his team. Wouldn’t recommend, but hey — defense wins championships.

The impact player: If there’s one word to describe center Jack Eichel, it’s “hungry.” Now in his eighth season, Eichel has finally made it to the postseason and isn’t wasting any time. He currently leads the Golden Knights with 18 playoff points, but as his coach Bruce Cassidy recently said, “Jack doesn't have to score for us to win.” Call him the game-changer.

Leading the charge: The entire Vegas gang held down the fort this season while captain Mark Stone recovered from his second back surgery in less than a year, but the veteran has made an undeniable impact since returning to the ice in April.

📺 How to tune in

And so, the historic battle begins, with both teams fighting to bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time ever. As mentioned, the puck drops for Game 1 tonight at 8 p.m. ET on TNT and TBS in the U.S. and CBC and Sportsnet in Canada. Ice, ice baby.