By Thomas Schlachter, CNN
The Knights go into the final as heavy favorites with many expecting the Stanley Cup to be heading to Vegas for the first time. However, the Panthers are happy to play the role of the underdog and have been on an incredible playoff run thus far.
The world of ice hockey knows that anything can happen when it comes to shocks with Florida looking to channel images of the “Miracle on Ice.”
The likes of Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe will be hoping to do their best Mike Eruzione impression from Team USA’s famous win against the Soviet Union.
How to watch
The best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final starts on Saturday June 3 with the opening game starting at 8 p.m E.T.
All the games from this year’s Stanley Cup Final will be shown live in the US on TNT.
The Vegas Golden Knights finished with the most points in the Western conference. The Golden Knights picked up 111 points and ended the season with a 51-22 record with nine overtime losses.
The Golden Knights faced the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round of the playoffs. Despite losing the first game, Vegas bounced back to win four on the trot to take a 4-1 series win.
The Edmonton Oilers were up next and Vegas marched to a 4-2 second-round series win to set up a Western Conference Final series against the Dallas Stars.
The Golden Knights raced to a 3-0 series lead before the Stars won back-to-back games to keep the series interesting. Eventually Vegas wrapped up the series with a 6-0 win to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas stars Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith previously took to the ice for Florida before being let go after being deemed unwanted. Since then, Marchessault has become Vegas’ all-time leader in goals, assists, points and games played while Smith is second in goals, fourth in assists, third in points and fourth in games played.
“They’re reminding me a lot of the team we had the first year: against all odds,” Marchessault said of the Panthers after reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
“They worked hard to be there. It’s all in their honor. They have a great team all around the lineup and a good goaltender. Yeah, definitely excited to play them, and it’s going to be a good series.”
While the Golden Knights were expected to go far following the regular season, the Florida Panthers have upset the odds throughout the playoffs to reach their first final for almost 30 years.
The Panthers qualified for the playoffs via the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference and as a result faced the Eastern Conference table toppers in the first round.
The Boston Bruins set the NHL regular season record for most wins (65) and most points (135) in a single season and a routine series win was expected for the recordbreakers.
When the Bruins raced to a 3-1 lead, it seemed like the series was going exactly according to script with the favorites advancing. However, Paul Maurice’s team had other ideas and won three consecutive games to shock the hockey world.
The Panthers and the Bruins played out a thriller in Game 7 with the match going to overtime. In OT, Verhaeghe popped up with a winner to send the underdogs soaring into the second round, thwarting the Bruins’ Stanley Cup dreams.
Florida’s next two series were wrapped up a lot more comfortably. The Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 before sealing a 4-0 sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Panthers star Tkachuk has led in points in the postseason with 21 (nine goals, 12 assists), but more than that, the 25-year-old has stepped up in the crunch moments when his team has needed him.
He’s netted three overtime goals in the playoffs, including the game-winner on a power play with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation in Game 4 against Carolina.
Tkachuk said his Panthers team is relishing the feeling of proving people wrong with their run to the final two.
“Kind of that similar feel of being the underdog and trying to prove people wrong again,” Tkachuk said.
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CNN’s Ben Morse and Kevin Dotson contributed to this story.