Vegas to meet Florida in Cup final!

Marc Elliott

PARK POINT – The only way tonight's Game Six of the Western Conference Final was going to end was with one team's fan base very happy with the result and the other team's fan base not. After the Vegas Golden Knights got out to a three games to none series lead, many observers thought this series would end quickly.

Add to the fray that due to a Game three incident that led to a Game Misconduct and two-game suspension for the Dallas Stars Captain and leader Jamie Benn, most fans believed that the VGK would be wrapping the series up quickly, perhaps even with a four-game sweep.  

To Dallas' credit, they dug down deep and secured G4 and G5 wins with 3-2 and 4-2 victories. Tonight though, in a 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Knights, the Stars looked like a team with little left in the emotional gas tank. The result was a resounding win for the VGK and subsequent invitation to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final.

My son wondered aloud about how many media or fans had the VGK facing the Cats for the best trophy on the planet.  

Truthfully, probably not many. It isn't like these weren't or aren't two pretty good clubs though. Last season the VGK missed the playoffs but that was due to a major quantity of injury situations. The Panthers won the President's Trophy only to lose out in a second-round sweep to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In a way that's understandable, the Bolts have been one of the best teams in the league for multiple seasons.

For me it illustrated how hard of a tournament it is to win and how great of a team Tampa has been recently. But so far in this tourney the Cats have been the team on a magic carpet ride.  

Back in January many analysts didn't see FLA getting into the dance. From that point forward they played their own level of playoff hockey and got a playoff spot by one point in the standings. If not for the Penguins going 2-3 in their final five games of the regular season, FLA would have been out. At that time they weren't even playing their $10mil goalie Sergei Bobrovsky because they didn't seem to have much confidence in him. They were leaning on Baudette native and 30-year-old journeyman tender Alex Lyon.  

Lyon had limited NHL experience, appearing in only 39 games with a 16-11-5 record. But in playing ten tilts down the stretch from late January forward, Lyon went 7-3 and that was huge for a club still fighting for a playoff spot.   FLA made it in but had to face the President's Trophy winner of this season, the Boston Bruins. They just had the best regular season record in NHL history. But then there was that President's Trophy winner's "curse" hanging over them before their series even began. Lyon went 1-2 though and was pulled in favor of the NHL veteran Bobrovsky, affectionately known as "Bob."     

The Bob didn't prevail in his first start in G4 but stuck with it and the Cats won the BOS series in seven games, which featured an epic G7 OT win.   From that point on the Bob has played spectacularly posting an 11-1 record since losing G4 to the Bruins. His postgame interviews have been full of gratitude and humility and he has converted me into being a huge fan of his. In my 60+ years of NHL viewing each era seems to have had one to three tenders capable of winning games regardless of how his teammates were playing in front of him. In watching the tourney this year, I can only conclude that the Bob is one of those.  

ON SATURDAY NIGHT June the 3rd the Stanley Cup Finals will commence. (all games on TNT) The VGK will have home ice so G1 and G2 will be held in Sin City. FLA will host G3 and G4, and after that it's 1-1-1 if needed. Is this even a factor this season? Road teams in the tourney went 31-19 in the first round.   Between the pipes we will see the Bob for the Cats and Adin Hill for the VGK. Hill did not see the ice for the first seven games of the tourney. Laurent Brossoit began the playoffs and departed in G3 versus the EDM Oilers after what appeared to be an LBI. Hill completed the game with a shutout the rest of the way and has a 6-3 record since that game. Right now though the Bob is leading all tenders in the tourney and is a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP if the Cats win the Cup.  

Currently Bob has a .935Sv% with a 2.21 GAA. Hill has a .937Sv% with a 2.07 GAA. I'm giving Bob the slight nod here simply based on his veteran body of work. Hill has played in just over 100 NHL games with limited playoff experience while Bob has played in well over 600 tilts with adequate playoff experience.  

Paul Maurice will be the man behind the bench for FLA while Butch Cassidy will be guiding the Knights. Cassidy is known as a coach who can build very good defensive schemes while Coach "Mo" is known as a psychological master who can get his steads to go through brick walls when needed. From an experience standpoint alone I have to give Mo an edge here. I can't discount the abilities of Cassidy but I'll give a slight nod to Mo here.  

For basic stat comparisons in the regular season, FLA scored more ranking 6th in GF to the VGK's 14th. Vegas defended better ranked 11th in GA to the Cat's 21st. FLA had the better PP at 10th in the league to 18th for Vegas. The VGK was slightly better on the PK at 19th to 23rd. FLA had the 2nd most PIMs in the league, Vegas had the least. FLA went 42-32-8 of 82 tilts, Vegas went 51-22-9. Of course that is all for naught at this point.    

The playoff comps are different here, Vegas has gone 12-5. They have a 3.65 GF average and a 2.65 GA average. They are at 18.5% on the PP and 63% on the PK. They are at 50% on the faceoff dots.  

For the Cats, they are at 12-4, 3.13 GF average, 2.69 GAA, with a 27.9% efficiency on the PP and a 71.2% PK. They are at 44% on faceoffs.   Can any firm conclusions be taken from the simple stats? Vegas is about a half-a-goal better per game, they are in a dead heat in GA, and it looks like FLA has the better special teams play. In reality my answer is that this data doesn't give me any signals one way or the other.  

The Vegas odds show that four of the five major sportsbooks have the VGK as their favorite. They are at -130 with the Cats at a +110.   You know what though? These stats and betting odds do not show one thing here, and that's heart, psychology and intangibles. In that regard you can give me the FLA Panthers all day long. Give me the Cats in an epic seven-gamer.  PEACE