ANALYSIS: Difficult to predict outcome of NHL playoffs’ final four
The Stanley Cup playoffs are down to a final four scenario, and while two divisional winners from the regular season are still alive and kicking, isolating the favourites to emerge from the two conference finals set to begin this week is challenging.
After all, these playoffs have been anything but predictable, with upsets aplenty and controversial officiating making for some riveting viewing.
Out east, the Cinderella slipper continues to fit nicely on the Florida Panthers — a team that snuck into the post-season by a single point and has since knocked off two Original Six markets, the last of which in convincing fashion.
For their head coach, Paul Maurice, this will be the fourth time he’s taken a team to the conference finals — including a run with the Winnipeg Jets five years ago — but there is irony in this latest appearance, as it comes against the Carolina Hurricanes, the very team he guided there twice before, including once to the Stanley Cup final in 2002.
And based on how his Panthers dispatched the President’s Trophy winners in Boston and then Toronto so far, nobody should be sleeping on Florida when the puck drops in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the matchup in the Western Conference might be easier to forecast, as it’s almost a rite of passage each spring for the Vegas Golden Knights to advance to the final four — and here they are again for an incredible fourth time in their six-year history, having gotten there this time high-sticking and slashing their way past the Edmonton Oilers and Jets.
Their opponent, the Dallas Stars, has been here before, too — a second trip in four years, to be precise — but Father Time seems to be gaining on their core despite their recent ability to outscore their mistakes and receive just enough goaltending to advance past Seattle in seven.
Each team in this final four will have its challenges in advancing to the Stanley Cup final. Predicting those winners is equally as difficult — perhaps as daunting as officiating them — but like most of the playoffs thus far, it should make for more riveting viewing ahead.
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