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The FLA Panthers oust the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2023 playoffs in five.
DUNLAP ISLAND – I just got done watching the Vegas Golden Knights show the Edmonton Oilers where the rubber meets the road. Tonight's final was a Game Six 5-2 win (4 to 2) for the VGK and they now advance to meet tomorrow night's Seven Heaven winner between the Dallas Stars and the upstart second-season Seattle Kraken.
The Kraken forced a seventh and deciding game last night with a dominating performance on home ice in a decisive 6-3 win in the Emerald City. Tonight was both an interesting game and yet another reminder of how far the Wild have to go to become a real contender. They just aren't close right now. It's the reality.
The interesting part to me was how frenetic the first period was (2-1 EDM lead) and then from the moment the second frame began how the VGK slowly but surely placed their own grip on this tilt, scored the final four goals of the game, and it was over.
The Oil is out of the tournament once again, and as bad as that is for them, as good of a team as Edm has been recently, they simply weren't in Vegas' league. It got clearer as the series wore on. I'm not surprised at this outcome.
What would be the better Western Conference Final? The VGK versus the Stars or the Kraken? At this point I can't see either of them winning a series against Vegas. The Vegas game appears to be that strong right now. I'd believe the Stars would make it a more competitive series, I just can't see either of them making a Cup Final with the VGK in the way.
In the East, the ECF will feature the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Florida Panthers. A lot of analysts and fans saw the Canes being in this position but not the Cats. Florida did not get a playoff ticket until right at the end of the regular season. Since then they have been on a tear. They eliminated the Presidents Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in a seven-game thriller.
I could see it building as the series went forward. Florida wasn't going away, the Bruins weren't running the Cats off the ice as they did with all opposition during the regular season. The longer Florida was in it the more I could see them taking the series. They won G7 4-3 in OT. Yessiree Bob, the President Trophy curse is alive and well!
At around the same time the Toronto Maple Leafs were winning their first playoff series in 19 years when they eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning in a seven-game thriller. The Leafs took out the Bolts in G7 in a 2-1 OT epic game won by the Leafs. The TBL put up a fight but to be honest, in the end they looked like a tired, somewhat worked over, veteran club of warriors (I can hear Micheal Buffer, resplendent in his White Dinner Jacket, calling them the former Heavyweight Champions of the Worldddddd!) who were fighting that one last battle from one of the best runs in NHL hockey and Stanley Cup history.
I don't have to pump their tires, they've been doing that all by themselves. Since the 2014-15 season they have appeared in four Stanley Cup Finals, winning two of them, and appeared in three consecutive Finals within that stretch. They won 420 of 700 regular season games played and have amassed a playoff record of 53-25 since the 2019-20 Cup tournament.
It is futile to compare the Wild here. Since their unceremonious exit from the tourney two-plus weeks back I've had to debate a few fans who disagree with my view that the Wild are not serious contenders at this time. Well, they just aren't. The Wild hasn't even won a division title in the Central Division during the Bolt's reign of hockey excellence.
But the "new" Central Division has produced five Cup Finalists since the 2013-14 divisional renaming, going 3-2 within them. That's almost all of them except the one with "Minnesota" on the front of the sweater. So, the wait and the hockey malaise that hits the State of Hockey every year at this time is still infecting some fans while some are working their way through recovery.
On Friday eve I took in Game Five of the FLA-TOR series. This game took place due to a G4 win by the Leafs to avoid a sweep versus the Cats. There wasn't much doubt about which team had the mojo going here, and who had the better tender between the pipes.
One of the biggest reasons for the Cat's playoff run is the play of Sergei Bobrovsky. The "Bob" has been an upper-level goalie at times in his career and he has picked a great time to rediscover some past playing glory. How good can Bob be? He shares an NHL record for consecutive wins by a goalie at 14 games. He is that kind of good. It was not unexpected to see him play well against the Leafs and come away with the series win.
So how do the Canes and Cats shake out? The Canes are tough at home and have struggled to win on the road at times. FLA is 6-1 on the road this playoff year. And I'd have to give FLA the edge in goal. I like FLA here in six.
IF THERE IS A fanbase as down in the mouth about its team right now as Wild fans are, it has to be Leafs Nation. That's a very large contingent. They are extremely enthusiastic about their team and they take losing, especially at playoff time, very hard. Just like Wild fans do.
The Wild has been booted in the first round seven straight times now. The Leafs just got to the second round for the first time in 19 seasons. Jumping Jiminy Jehosophat! We have a match here with significant similarities!
I felt the Cats would win G5 Friday night and advance. I knew when that occurred Toronto fans everywhere were going to "lose their stuff" so to speak. I first went to the Toronto newspapers. True to form, the world as it was known to Leaf fans was going to be coming to an end. I mean, some Torontonians consider themselves to be the "Center of the Hockey Universe."
So this event was totally unacceptable in their world. Everyone was to be fired from the front office right down to the hotdog makers. The team was going to certainly have to have several roster changes. And so on... I just kind of subtly smiled to myself. This is the passion of hockey. I
just heard all of this in the Twin Cities a couple of weeks back. I've entertained and spoken of many of these same things. And considering that some think Minnesota is just southern Canada anyway, I thought of a new possibility that may help us both! Merge the Wild & the Leafs! The new club will either be good enough to at least hit the second round every year or twice as bad as before! There do exist some challenges though, would you refer to them as the Toronto Wild Maples or the Minnesota Wild Leafs? PEACE