The Florida Panthers
Long before the breathtaking NBA series between Boston and Miami, there was that between the Boston Bruins and the Panthers, in the first round of the NHL play-offs. The Bruins had beaten all records regular season (wins, points scored), while the Panthers narrowly qualified. But, led three wins to one, the Floridians managed the feat of signing three successes in a row and to qualify. The Toronto Maples Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes, other strong teams this season, were then devoured by the Panthers.
Miami owes its superb career in the play-offs to two players: American striker Matthew Tkachuk (25) and Russian goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky (34). The first came to the Panthers this year, after six years in Calgary. He signed a good season with 40 goals and 109 points, and did not stop in the final phase (9 goals). Bobrovsky has had a mixed year. He was only credited with 24 regular season wins (against 20 losses). But he redeemed himself in the play-offs with 11 matches won and only 2 lost.
Created in 1993, the Florida Panthers display a modest track record. They only played one final, in 1996, and were clearly dominated by the Colorado Avalanche (4-0). In thirty years of existence, the Miami team has only played the play-offs eight times… and has rarely made it past the first round. But the Panthers are on a good dynamic: they have participated in the final stages for the past four years. And, last year, Florida finished with the best regular season record.
Adin Hill was Las Vegas’ goalie in the conference finals. (J. Miron/USA Today Sports/Reuters)
The Vegas Golden Knights
After missing the play-offs last season, for the first time in its history, Las Vegas reacted well. The Golden Knights finished top of the Western Conference and then dismissed Los Angeles, Edmonton and Dallas in the play-offs. Against the Texans, they experienced a little concern, leading three wins to zero, before seeing their opponent win two games in a row. But the Nevada franchise finally clinched its qualification brilliantly, winning 6-0 in Dallas in Game 6.
No great individuality in Nevada, but a good collective. In the play-offs, forwards William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson scored 10, 9 and 8 goals respectively. There is also Jack Eichel and Reilly Smith. As a goalkeeper, Logan Thompson was elected to the All Star Game this season. But, injured in the lower body since February, he gave way to Laurent Brossoit then to Adin Hill.
In 2018, the Vegas Golden Knights caused a sensation, reaching the final in their first year of existence. But the Washington Capitals had been stronger. French Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was playing in Las Vegas that year. The young Nevada team was then very regular, reaching the conference finals in 2020 and 2021. Will it win the first title in its short history this season?