NHL Conference Finals Picks: Who Emerges From Wide-Open Field?

The Panthers rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the opening round against Boston then handled the Maple Leafs in five games. Can they take down Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Thought it would be the Bruins, didn’t you? Maybe the Avalanche? Heck, even the Maple Leafs and Oilers were primed to end Canada’s long Stanley Cup title drought. And yet here we are in hockey’s final four (or Frozen Four, if you will) with none of the aforementioned clubs present. Instead, four teams that have won two combined Stanley Cup titles are gunning for a championship. It’s fresh blood in the East, and two familiar foes in the West who squared off on this stage (albeit in the bubble) three years ago. Let’s make some picks!

Eastern Conference: Florida (WC2) vs. Carolina (M1)

Carolina is red-hot, and seemingly scoring at will. The Canes are tough at home and had a stellar regular-season that was overshadowed by the historic Bruins. But something tells me this Panthers team is on a serious mission, especially after narrowly escaping death against the aforementioned Bruins. After being perhaps an inch away from elimination on a Brad Marchand goal in Game 5, and then a minute away from the end in Game 7 before forcing OT, the Panthers were breathing easy and had surprisingly little difficulty disposing the Maple Leafs. They play a physical style of hockey that is conducive to postseason success, and I’m still riding the bandwagon of the number eight seed that is taking the hard road after falling flat as the top seed a year ago. Prediction: Panthers in 6.

Western Conference: Dallas (C2) vs. Vegas (P1)

Three years ago in the bubble, Dallas bested Vegas to advance to an eerie, fanless Cup Final where it fell short against Tampa. The Knights have been remarkably successful in their short existence, reaching the third round of the playoffs four times in just six all-time seasons. But they are still searching for their first Cup, and my hunch tells me that this year’s team has played the underdog card a little more than in previous years (with the exclusion of their inaugural year when there were virtually no expectations). Dallas is getting strong goaltending from Jake Oettinger and that definitely gives Dallas a strong chance, but I’ll take Sin City to meet Sun City in the Finals. Prediction: Knights in 7.

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