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NHL Playoffs 2023: X-Factors to Watch on Conference Finals Schedule

Joe Tansey

The four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs displayed few weaknesses over the first two rounds.

The Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights were all difficult to beat, making the conference final matchups so intriguing.

The two Stanley Cup Final participants could be determined by X-factors, like incredible goalie play or the strength on the penalty kill.

Experience at this stage of the postseason could also help in the opening games of the series while all four teams find their footing in specific on-ice matchups.

There is no clear favorite in either series and should set up two exciting extended series over the next two weeks, starting with Thursday's Game 1 in Carolina.

Conference Finals Schedule

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Eastern Conference

Game 1: Florida at Carolina (May 18, 8 p.m.)

Game 2: Florida at Carolina (May 20, 8 p.m.)

Game 3: Carolina at Florida (May 22, 8 p.m.)

Game 4: Carolina at Florida (May 24, 8 p.m.)

Game 5: Florida at Carolina (May 26, 8 p.m.)

Game 6: Carolina at Florida (May 28, 8 p.m.)

Game 7: Florida at Carolina (May 30, 8 p.m.)

All Times ET

All games televised on TNT

Western Conference

Game 1: Dallas at Vegas (May 19, 8:30 p.m.)

Game 2: Dallas at Vegas (May 21, 3 p.m.)

Game 3: Vegas at Dallas (May 23, 8 p.m.)

Game 4: Vegas at Dallas (May 25, 8 p.m.)

Game 5: Dallas at Vegas (May 27, 8 p.m.)

Game 6: Vegas at Dallas (May 29, 8 p.m.)

Game 7: Dallas at Vegas (May 31, 9 p.m.)

All Times ET

All games televised on ESPN or ABC

Goalie Play

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The two conference finals could feature a ton of low-scoring games because of the tremendous goalie play displayed in the first two rounds.

Vegas' Adin Hill, Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky and Carolina's Frederik Andersen all have save percentages over .918.

Dallas' Jake Oettinger owns the most wins of any goalie this postseason. He only has a .903 save percentage, but he is coming off a Game 7 in which he conceded once on 23 shots against the Seattle Kraken.

Bobrovsky is the most experienced goalie of the quartet. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner has been in the league for over a decade and is producing some of the best performances of his career with the Panthers.

Andersen has a long playoff track record from his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs before he joined the Hurricanes.

Hill and Oettinger are going through their first deep playoff runs as the No. 1 goalie. Hill was placed in that position after Laurent Brossoit got hurt early in the second round.

We could see strong performances out of all four goalies in the conference finals, given their current form.

A large amount of low-scoring games may not be exciting for the fans, but all four teams are more than willing to win contests by scoring two or three times.

Penalty Kill

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Carolina and Dallas carry significant edges on the penalty kill.

The Hurricanes have been the best team against the man advantage in the postseason. They've killed 90 percent of the power plays that they've faced, per

Dallas holds the second-best penalty-kill percentage left in the postseason at 83.3.

Florida and Vegas are in the bottom quadrant of penalty-kill percentage in the playoffs. The Panthers killed off 65.8 percent of penalties, while Vegas sits at a meager 60 percent.

Vegas' two previous opponents, the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets, hold the best power-play percentages in the postseason.

Dallas ranks fifth in power-play success rate at 31.7 percent, and that could be one of the deciding factors in the Western Conference.

Carolina's exception power-play defense could thwart a Florida unit that ranks sixth on the man advantage in the playoffs.

Carolina's two postseason foes, the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, failed to hit a 20 percent success rate with the extra man. The Islanders had a 5.6 percent conversion rate on the power play.

The Hurricanes play exceptional defense, and if that continues to show on the penalty kill, they could earn a significant edge early in the Eastern Conference Final.

Previous Conference Final Experience

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Carolina, Dallas and Vegas have all been to the conference final round since 2019.

Carolina lost to the Boston Bruins in 2019, while Dallas defeated Vegas in 2020.

The experience throughout the Stars and Golden Knights roster may cancel that out as an X-factor to determine the series winner.

But we could still see signs of that experience helping both teams. Joe Pavelski was fantastic for the Stars in the second round, and Reilly Smith started to get hot in front of goal near the end of the Edmonton series.

Pavelski and Smith are just two of the many skaters with experience in the third round of the postseason and beyond.

That could help either team gain the edge against Hill or Oettinger early in the series, or the experience may allow the skaters to prepare their goalies and calm them in some nervy moments.

Carolina reshaped its roster in the years since its last Eastern Conference Final appearance, but it does have some players from that series still on the roster, including Sebastian Aho, Jordan Martinook and Jaccob Slavin.

Those players at least know what to expect in a conference final, and it could help the Hurricanes gain an early edge over a Panthers roster that has not played a ton of games at this stage.


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