LAS VEGAS — There will be a first-time Stanley Cup winner in 2023.
This year's NHL championship has come down to the Vegas Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers. Both teams are making just their second appearances in the Final, with a single win combined between the two franchises.
Game 1 will be Saturday at 8:00 PM ET in Las Vegas and is available on TNT.
The Golden Knights advanced to the Final in their inaugural season in 2017-2018, when they lost the best-of-7 series 4-1 to the Washington Capitals.
The Panthers, meanwhile, return to the Final for the first time since 1996, when they were swept 4-0 by the Colorado Avalanche.
There are six players who remain on the Golden Knights from that 2018 squad, including Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. Both players made their way to Vegas via Florida in the Golden Knights' expansion draft.
One of the key matchups to watch will be Jack Eichel vs. Matthew Tkachuk. Both are two of the brightest stars in the NHL making their debuts on the biggest of stages.
For Eichel, this run with Vegas is his first taste of NHL playoff action, and he leads the team with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 17 playoff games. The Golden Knights have a pretty balanced offense, though. They have six players with at least 14 points during the postseason.
Tkachuk leads Florida with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 16 playoff games after an NHL career-high 109 points (40 goals, 69 assists) in 79 regular-season games. He scored four goals in the four-game sweep against the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, including two in overtime, and the series clincher with 4.9 seconds left in the third period of Game 4.
Tkachuk is a Hart Trophy finalist for NHL regular season MVP, and would be a favorite to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP were it not for Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Panthers goalie didn't appear in the playoffs since Game 3 of the opening round against the Boston Bruins, but has been lights out ever since. Bobrovsky is 11-2 with a 2.21 GAA and .935 save percentage in 14 games (13 starts).
He'll be going up against Adin Hill, who took over the net in Game 3 of the second round after Laurent Brossoit got injured. He's 7-3 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 11 games (nine starts).
Vegas will have home ice advantage, but that hasn't mattered to Florida. The Panthers seem like the team of destiny here, and will defy the odds once again.
Prediction: Panthers in 6.