Stanley Cup Final: Panthers getting taste of their own medicine

The Panthers' run to the Stanley Cup Final was driven by their goaltending advantage. It's an edge they haven't had against the Golden Knights.

From winning the Presidents' Trophy in 2021-22, to the Matthew Tkachuk trade, to nearly missing the playoffs this season, the story of the Florida Panthers' run to the Stanley Cup Final is a complicated one.

The team's recipe for postseason success, on the other hand, is simple.

While Tkachuk's overtime heroics and all-around impact have gotten much of the spotlight, the work Sergei Bobrovsky has done between the pipes has been the single biggest driver of the team's success.

In 14 games prior to the Stanley Cup Final, the Panthers goaltender posted a .935 save percentage. He conceded just 33 goals despite an expected goals against total of 52.45. The difference between the goals he allowed and his xG conceded (19.45) is almost three times Florida's goal differential during that span (+7).

While Bobrovsky was shining, the skaters in front of him were not carrying the play. In their first three series, the Panthers were outshot 529-457 at 5-on-5 with their opponents posting an expected goal total of 41.83 to Florida's 36.48.

Despite that, the Panthers won the goal battle 31-25, with goaltending as the biggest difference maker.

The Florida Panthers are at a goaltending disadvantage in the Stanley Cup Final. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The Florida Panthers are at a goaltending disadvantage in the Stanley Cup Final. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

So far in the Stanley Cup Final, the established script has been flipped on its head. At 5-on-5 the Panthers have gotten more than half of the shots (52.81%), expected goals (54.13%), scoring chances (52.22%), and high-danger scoring chances (51.16%).

They've been outscored 8-3.

While the Vegas Golden Knights' power play has been a difference maker, the team has also more than doubled Florida's 5-on-5 output despite the ice being tilted in the Panthers' favour.

Vegas has some strong finishers on its side, but once again it's easy to point to goaltending. Adin Hill has a .939 save percentage in the series with significantly fewer goals allowed (4) than expected goals conceded (7.02).

He also has the playoffs' top save to put on his personal highlight reel.

Meanwhile, Bobrovsky has an .826 save percentage in two games and has eight goals against versus just 5.4 expected goals.

On Monday, he looked out of sorts on a pair of scores from Alec Martinez and Nicholas Roy — who entered the game with a combined one tally in the playoffs:


That put Bobrovsky on the road to getting yanked, a shocking outcome for a goaltender in the midst of a stellar run.

As is often the case, all of this can be interpreted in multiple ways.

The upside for Florida is the team is playing Vegas tough at 5-on-5 and controlling the play better than it has all playoffs. If Bobrovsky can come around and the Panthers can keep up the pressure, they can get back into this series.

Bobrovsky at his best with a team winning the possession battle in front of him is an excellent blueprint for success.

On the other hand, it's possible the Panthers have simply lost the best advantage they had going for them. Hill has been outstanding in the other crease and a long layoff between the Eastern Conference final and this series may have cooled off Bobrovsky.

If the Panthers are dealing with the kind of goaltending disadvantage their opponents faced in their run to the Stanley Cup Final, they're likely to be doomed to the same fate as the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Carolina Hurricanes.