NHL Conference Finals Preview: Each team's biggest strength as they vie for spot in Stanley Cup Final

Only four teams remain in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the last of which being the Edmonton Oilers, who held off the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 to move on to the Western Conference Finals. 

It is there where the Oilers will be pitted against the Dallas Stars, but that Game 1 will wait until the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers kick off their Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night. 

All four of these teams are playing connected in all phases, which should create some thrilling games to determine who will be vying for the Stanley Cup. 

Let’s take a look at both series to see who may have the upper hand in winning their respective conference.

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It looked like the Blueshirts were heading to a Game 7 with the Carolina Hurricanes, who were so close to tying up the series after going down three games to none. However, Chris Kreider, the veteran Rangers winger, scored three goals in the third period to defeat the Canes and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals, a place this group is familiar with.

The Rangers made it during the 2021-22 season, when their Stanley Cup dreams were cut short by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who eventually lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Final. 

However, while this group has the experience, the Panthers are on a redemption tour after shocking everyone in the East to win the conference. However, the Vegas Golden Knights made quick work of them, winning last year’s Stanley Cup Final in five games. 

Florida took down the Boston Bruins yet again after upsetting the President’s Trophy winners last season on their home ice in Game 7. This game they needed six games, beating them 2-1 this past Friday to move on. 

For the Rangers, it is actually quite simple when stepping back and looking beyond the depth, the power play prowess and the grittiness on the forecheck. Igor Shesterkin is the best goalie in these playoffs. 

He owns a 2.40 goals-against average with a .923 save percentage, which includes an absolute robbery of Andrei Svechnikov in Game 6, when the Canes’ sniper had a clear look at tying the game at four goals apiece following Kreider’s hat trick. However, Shesterkin was quick to come out of his crease, butterfly into position and swipe away Svechnikov’s quick wrister. 

The Panthers and Rangers are going to get their Grade-A chances to score. They have been doing it all throughout the playoffs, but having the hottest goalie in the game on the Rangers’ side makes a big difference, just like that save on Svechnikov did. 

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Knowing Shesterkin is at the top of his game, Peter Laviolette’s boys can continue to be very aggressive, even when they are short-handed in penalty kill situations.

Florida’s biggest asset is not just the depth they possess offensively, but how relentless they are in front of the net and retrieving pucks that did not go in the net. Opposing fans cannot stand how pesky the Panthers are because, even if a goalie makes a tremendous save on a scoring chance, the puck could be right back on him in two seconds with how savvy these Panthers are at keeping the puck in the offensive zone. 

What is only scary for Rangers fans is the fact that Sam Reinhart, who had 57 goals during the regular season, has been very quiet. Like Kreider, he thrives around the net, picking up loose chances and shoving them in for goals. He led all players during the regular season in man-advantage goals, too. 

If there is an area of Shesterkin’s game where he can be shaky, it is dealing with a lot of bodies in front of the net. That is exactly what Florida loves to do, and it will not just be one man doing it. 

Much like the Rangers, the Oilers find themselves back in the Conference Finals for the first time since the 2021-22 season, and what is not to love about seeing Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and all the other star power Edmonton possesses vying for a spot in the Stanley Cup? 

Well, the Stars certainly do not love it. They want revenge after losing to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Golden Knights in the Conference Finals last season, and that sting is still there. 

Dallas needed two overtimes to finally capture the series win against the Colorado Avalanche, and they did so without one of their stars (pun intended), Roope Hintz, who continues to deal with an upper-body injury. 

However, the Stars are seeing contributions from all over at the right time of year, with Wyatt Johnston, Joe Pavelski and Miro Heiskanen, who leads the team with 13 points (five goals, eight assists), working together to get through their opponents. 

Meanwhile, the Oilers’ firepower goes without saying, and while McDavid gets all the attention, Draisaitl is leading every man in the playoffs with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists). McDavid is right behind him with 21 points, though only two have come by way of goals. 

Scoring from all lines is the key for Dallas, and it comes at a time when they could quickly run up the score on the Oilers if they are not balanced defensively. Dallas has seen nine different players capture at least six points this postseason, showing how much depth they have. 

They need to use that depth against Stuart Skinner, who has not been dominant in the postseason despite Edmonton’s success. He owns a .881 save percentage and has a 2.87 goals-against average. 

The Oilers ended up going with Calvin Pickard for two starts in this postseason, and Dallas would obviously love it if Edmonton had the trouble of picking which goalie to go against them each night. 

This is why getting Hintz back is paramount for the Stars, because the more Dallas can get the puck on net, the more likely the scoreboard will light up. Seems very matter of fact to say, but the Oilers have been susceptible to letting games get away from them in the past. 

The dynamic duo of McDavid and Draisaitl has shown its face throughout the playoffs, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

They may not play on the same line, but you will see opportune times when the Oilers will send out one or the other to take advantage of good matchups. However, the power play is really when these two go to work along with Zach Hyman. 

However, no matter if they are together or not, the McDavid and Draisaitl lines need to produce to win this series. Draisaitl has the pleasure of working with Evander Kane, who has a knack for raising his play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2022, he was tied for the most postseason goals, and he has four with three assists this year. 

Additionally, when McDavid and Draisaitl are on their game, guys like Kane, Hyman, Dylan Holloway and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins clean up. That is the recipe for success. 

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