Vegas-Florida Stanley Cup Final pits top team in West against upstart in East

June 2, 2023  -LAS VEGAS (AP) — Few expected the Florida Panthers to be playing for the Stanley Cup. Not with two weeks left in the regular season and certainly not when they trailed the NHL-best Boston Bruins 3-1 in the first round.

The Vegas Golden Knights expected to be playing for the Stanley Cup. It was ownership’s plan from Day One of the franchise, to win it within six years, and a trip to the final in its inaugural season only shifted the hockey team in the desert into perennial contender mode.

Taking opposite roads to this point, Florida and Vegas now collide in the Cup Final with one team set to win the title for the first time. The Panthers are the upstarts out of the Eastern Conference and the last team to make the playoffs, and the Golden Knights are the powerhouse champions of the West.

Only one can finish this story on a winning note.

“We were the underdogs every series we’ve played — it doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks,” Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe said Friday ahead of the start of the final Saturday. “We think we have a really good team. It doesn’t really matter what the outside distractions say. We’re probably not favorites again. We just come to the rink, play hockey and try to win hockey games.”

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