The 2023 Eastern Conference Finals are set and granny guard the barn with a shotgun, cause it’s apt to be burned! The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers are set to drop the puck in what has to be one of the most evenly matched series in all of the 2023 NHL Playoffs. Carolina has a home ice advantage, as they have throughout the playoffs and have been waiting on Florida since May 11th. This rest, and several razor thin advantages should give the Canes an edge, but at this point it is anyone’s series.
Florida is built very similarly to the Carolina Hurricanes in that the team is chalked full of playoff experience. Both Florida and Carolina will field a team with at least some career playoff experience, but Carolina has more previous experience before the 2023 playoffs. Five Panthers are appearing in their first postseason, where only two Hurricanes haven’t played past the NHL regular season before this year. On the top end, Carolina has the clear advantage too. Four Canes have over 100 NHL Playoff games. Marc Staal is the only Florida Panther to have reached the century mark.
And, as we have seen with previous series against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, the Carolina Hurricanes have more productive experience than their opponents. An even 90% of the Canes have found the back of the net in the playoffs to 80% of the Panthers. However, the real distance made comes from the prolific nature of the Hurricanes scoring. Four Panthers have double digit goals over their playoff careers, but Carolina is fielding a team with twice as many players with more than 10 goals.
However, the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals are being played in 2023, not the past.
Coming into the Conference Finals, much of the focus from the National Media has been on Carolina’s scoring and depth. Canes fans were treated to a healthy dose of questioning whether the Hurricanes could score and/or score deep in their roster. But the Hurricanes have the Panthers beat in total goals over two series of play 40 to 38, with one fewer game too. Fifteen different Hurricanes have scored throughout the postseason. Fourteen different Panthers have scored for Florida, showing depth is the name of the game for both teams.
Where Carolina is just built differently comes the evenness in their scoring. Sebastian Aho and Jesper Fast lead the Carolina Hurricanes in scoring in the 2023 playoffs with 5 goals a piece. Seth Jarvis and Martin Necas each have 4 goals. Then three players have 3 each (Paul Stastny, Jordan Martinoon, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi). Three more have 2 goals, and two have 1.
Florida’s scoring is more top heavy and drops off more suddenly than Carolina’s. Brandon Montour and Sam Reinhart have 6 goals, sharing the lead for the Panthers. Carter Verhaeghe and Matthew Tkachuk have 5. After that things drop deeply for the Panthers with three players with 2 goals and four have a single goal.
Where the Hurricanes have shared the wealth of playoff scoring, the Panthers seem to have adopted a “have and have not” plan. This advantage falls to the Canes as their scoring threats come from all over the ice, and are much harder to cover. With a select few scoring more, it should be easier for Carolina’s defense to isolate and smother the Panthers top scorers.
Between the pipes things get even closer statistically for the clubs hitting the ice in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals. On paper, neither team is better, though there are two different approaches to goaltending for the Canes and the Panthers.
Florida has gone with Sergei Bobrovsky as their primary netminder to get them to the Conference Finals. In 10 appearances his line reads 9 wins, a GAA of 2.81 and SV% of .918. Bobrovsky has been scored against throughout the 2023 playoffs though. Boston got 5 from him twice, and he gave up 2 in every single game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He did hold the Bruins to 1 goal in the series opener, but after that he has been a little on the leaky side of things. Alex Lyon has not been much better having let 3 by him in three games against the Bruins in the first round. His playoff line reads 3 wins, 9 GA, a 3.26 GAA, and a .902 SV%
Carolina, on the other hand, has again shared the wealth when it comes to the goal. Like the Panthers’ two net tenders, all three of Hurricanes’ goalies have seen time over the two series. Unlike the Panthers, Carolina’s goalies have taken their turns in series more than in games.
Antti Raanta was tremendous against the New York Islanders in Round 1 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. In five games against the Isles, his line read 3-2, 2.59 GAA, and a .906 SV%. Then as if on cue, Frederik Andersen took a turn being healthy and hitting the ice. Against the New Jersey Devils, Andersen was 5-0 with a 1.80 GAA and a save percentage at the .931 mark. Andersen did dump his 4 goal start against the Devils in game 3 on Pyotr Kochetkov who took the 8-4 loss on the chin and the stats sheet.
Goaltending could very well be the difference maker in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals. Carolina has the edge in their ability to call on two goalies who are both healthy, and capable of taking a playoff net. In reserve is the uber talented Pyotr Kochetkov who can steal a game better than anyone in the NHL. As Sergei Bobrovsky has to continually, though ably, carry the Florida Panthers further into the playoff, it is more likely he will need assistance from Lyon. However good Lyon was in the regular season, he has not shown his ability to hold the line when it comes to playoff hockey.
Coupled with the depth edge in the net, Carolina will have the added bonus of extra rest ahead of the Conference Finals. This rest has allowed even the slightest injured Hurricane to get healthy and ready for what is going to be a shoot out style series. Perhaps the biggest addition returning to the Carolina Hurricanes is Teuvo Teräväinen, who is hopefully returning from hand surgery that caused him to miss most of the series against the New York Islanders and all of the New Jersey Devils. To say the Hurricanes missed yet another scoring threat in Teräväinen is an understatement.
Look for the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals to be a full on track meet especially if the Carolina Hurricanes can get the Florida Panthers’ goaltenders. Carolina’s depth, however much it is questioned by the know-nothing national media, will be the key to victory. As the cliché perpetuates, a different Hurricane or Hurricanes will to step up to have a big series. Suppose a Brady Skjei, or Jesperi Kotkaneimi explodes, then gets some help from the Canes who have already shown out, the Hurricanes will hold on to win things by a nose.