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2023 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Our Picks for This Sun Belt Series

2023 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Our Picks for This Sun Belt Series | Tipico
2023 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Our Picks for This Sun Belt Series | Tipico
Phil Dzikiy
Published: 2023-06-02

This year’s Stanley Cup Final features a top-seeded team going up against an 8 seed — but you wouldn’t know that from looking at the odds.

While a few 8 seeds have made the Stanley Cup Final before — and one has won it — never has the lowest seed from one conference met the other in a Final, until now. But despite arriving from opposite ends of the seeding spectrum, oddsmakers expect a close series. Going into Game 1, Tipico Sportsbook has the eighth-seeded Florida Panthers as slight underdogs to win the Cup (+105), with the top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights currently sitting at -125 to take home the legendary hardware.

So what gives?


Although the Panthers barely got into the playoffs, they did so in what was by far the better conference in the NHL. In head-to-head matchups, only four Eastern Conference teams had a .500 or lower win percentage against Western Conference teams, while eight West teams were .500 or below against the East.

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The East also had the Boston Bruins, who set records this season in total points (135) and wins (65) in an NHL season — the Panthers upset the Bruins 4-3 in an instant classic first-round series.

So although the Panthers squeaked into the postseason — narrowly getting past a Pittsburgh Penguins team which had made the playoffs in 16 consecutive years prior to this one — they did so in a much stronger conference.


While Florida could have easily missed the playoffs, the Panthers did put in the work on the homestretch to get in. They were 24-22-6 through January, but 18-10-2 in the regular season since February 1.

Since then, the Panthers are 12-4 in the postseason, including a sweep of their division rival the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. The run is even less surprising when you consider that last season’s Panthers team won the President’s Trophy with the most points in the 2021-22 season. Perhaps the Cats were just lying dormant.

But though the Panthers played well before the postseason, the Golden Knights were even hotter down the homestretch — from the start of February until the end of the regular season, Vegas went 22-4-5 to secure the top seed in the West. Vegas has also gone 12-5 in this postseason thus far, and unlike Florida, they’ve yet to even face an elimination game.


This is one of the tighter Stanley Cup Final matchups in recent memory. Both teams have been very good throughout this postseason. Both teams have been strong in 5-on-5 situations. And both goalies have been hot.

An unrestricted free agent-to-be this coming offseason, Adin Hill has surely made himself a lot of money in net for the Golden Knights during this postseason run. Since taking over for Laurent Brossoit in goal midway through the second round series against Edmonton, Hill has put up a dazzling .937 save percentage in 11 games.

For Florida, Sergei Bobrovsky has been just as good — probably better — with a .935 save percentage in 14 games. “Bob” has unexpectedly reclaimed the Panthers net, and he’s playing out of his mind.

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Both teams have young stars to lead them on the ice, as well. Panthers’ winger Matthew Tkachuk leads his team (and is second in playoff scoring overall) with 21 points — and an unreal four game-winning goals. Jack Eichel isn’t far behind, as his 18 points lead the Golden Knights.

Both teams are balanced — the Panthers with five scorers in double digits, and the Knights with seven. And both teams have played very well in five-on-five situations, which is usually a good predictive indicator.

While we’re noting all the similarities, the key to the series may lie in the differences. Defensively, the Golden Knights have been the more impressive this postseason and also have the superior goal differential: +17, far and away the best in the playoffs. The Panthers are +7.

The Panthers, however, are the best team in the NHL at getting pucks to the net, as they led the league with 36.8 shots on goal per game this season. While the Panthers were outshot in every game during their sweep of the Hurricanes — often by a considerable margin — in that series they were able to generate enough quality out of those limited chances.

Florida has also looked better than Vegas on special teams during the postseason, with a 27.9% power play percentage, compared to the Knights’ 18.5%. Neither team has been particularly strong on the penalty kill — the Panthers come into the series with a 71.2% PK rate and VGK has a rather poor 63%.

However, the smaller sample size of the playoffs is a factor, especially when considering Vegas had to deal with the Oilers’ historical great power play in the second round.


These are two franchises that have never won the Cup — and one that’s only been around since 2017. (Vegas is not quite like the ancient Florida Panthers, who were founded all the way back in…1993.) While it’s a “nontraditional” matchup, the hockey itself should be entertaining.

Recent performances by both teams and statistical profiles, including advanced analytics, are all suggesting a close series. Acknowledging that it could go either way — and noting that either or both goalies may fall back to earth a bit in their performance — I’m giving a slight edge to the Panthers.

Though an 8 seed, the Panthers are coming out of the tougher conference, and playing in front of a more experienced Bobrovsky, whose playoff run is virtually unprecedented, especially as an older goaltender (he’s 34). I also think they’ll get just enough quality out of their superior shot generation to win their first Stanley Cup.

Panthers +105, Panthers in six games (4-2) +480

As for the Conn Smythe Trophy (Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP), Bobrovsky is the favorite at +185. While he’s a smart pick, Tkachuk at +290 might be too good to ignore — a Bobrovsky who’s merely good-not-great in the Final and a clutch Tkachuk is a tantalizing proposition.

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If you’re more of a VGK believer, Eichel is at +370 to win the Conn Smythe — but Jonathan Marchessault is just behind him in total points this postseason (17 to Eichel’s 18) and his longer odds at +600 make him a better value pick.

Phil Dzikiy is Marketing Editor of Tipico North America. He runs Tipico’s sports and casino blogs. A writer/editor with an extensive background in journalism and publishing, Dzikiy has written or edited for Professional Sports Publications, Wirecutter, Electrek, VMSD Magazine, iLounge, and a number of newspapers, among other outlets. He lives in New York City.

2023 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Our Picks for This Sun Belt Series | Tipico


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