NHL News

Ranking the best Stanley Cup Final matchups: Where does Oilers-Bruins land?

For the first time since 2016, the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs didn’t involve a series sweep. There are teams teetering on the brink of elimination, but as of Monday morning, all 16 playoff qualifiers are still alive.

Which means, mathematically, hockey fans can still dream about those opponents from the Eastern and Western Conferences that might meet for the Stanley Cup.

Here are the 10 best possible Stanley Cup Final matchups. Our rankings are based on storylines, star power and other attributes that might entice a casual sports fan to watch the greatest postseason tournament in sports.

This isn’t meant to besmirch the teams not listed here. The Minnesota Wild could have a banger of a series against any number of Eastern Conference foes. The atmosphere at Carolina Hurricanes and Winnipeg Jets home games? Simply awesome. Matthew Tkachuk, bringing his particular brand of whimsy to the playoffs’ biggest stage? We’re in.

But these 10 potential championship series are the ones that have our pulses racing and our minds wondering what chaos could ensue — especially when it comes to the Eastern Conference’s regular-season juggernaut, and its most “cursed” franchise.

If Toronto makes the Stanley Cup Final with a chance to win its first championship since 1967, clearly the most “Leafs way” to lose would be an elimination by a two-year-old NHL franchise making its first playoff appearance. And not just because the Kraken’s mascot is a troll and the entirety of Hockey Twitter will be sending “LOLeafs” tweets.

A rematch of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Or, more to the point, a “do-over.” That five-game Kings victory managed to be completely forgettable despite three overtime contests — and the series was decided in double-OT. The culprit: The Western Conference Final was the de facto Cup Final, with the Kings eliminating the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime of Game 7 in a battle of two potentially dynastic teams.

This edition has some fun new dynamics. The Rangers are loaded with star power, from former Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox to former Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin to Western Conference trade deadline imports Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. They even have a holdover from that 2014 team: Power-play monster Chris Kreider, who was a rookie that season.

But it’s the Kings players from that 2014 team that make them intriguing: Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, chasing another Stanley Cup ring nine years later. They’re surrounded with some talented offensive players, too … even if Los Angeles is frequently more interested in slowing down someone else’s offense in the playoffs than creating its own.

Of course, this series would also produce a bumper crop of celebrity puckheads.

Among Rangers loyalists: Liam Neeson, Margot Robbie, Michael J. Fox, Jimmy Fallon, Ansel Elgort, Sarah Jessica Parker, half the cast of “Stranger Things,” a quarter of the cast of “Saturday Night Live” and most of the New York Giants.

Obviously, a team in Hollywood draws a good number of celebrities, especially when they’re contending for a championship. The Kings have had everyone from Snoop Dogg to David Beckham in the stands for games. But lately, their most ubiquitous fan has been Will Ferrell. And as he showed in Game 3 against the Oilers, sometimes all you need is Will Ferrell … and some face paint.

We’ve also been told that comedian Nathan Fielder attended a few Kings games this season, leaving open the possibility that this Stanley Cup Final could be an elaborate rehearsal for another championship series.

“Top Gun: Maverick,” a reboot of “Fatal Attraction,” an upcoming Madonna tour … it’s like the 1980s never ended. So in keeping with that vibe, let’s party like it’s 1984 with the Islanders and the Oilers meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. It’ll be a nostalgia overload, with names like Gretzky, Messier, Trottier and Potvin lending context to the time when these two franchises were dynastic.

The Islanders are looking for their first Cup since 1983; the Oilers since 1990. It’s been a while!

But in the modern context, you’d have the irresistible forces of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl against the immovable objects of goalie Ilya Sorokin and an Islanders team that wants 60 minutes in the trenches, rather than a track meet. It’s a styles-clash match for modern fans, and a chance to celebrate the NHL’s fire-wagon years for the olds.

We haven’t had a Stanley Cup Final rematch in back-to-back years since the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins exchanged pleasantries and traded Cup wins in 2008 and 2009. The Lightning and Avalanche combined for an entertaining Final last season that featured four of six games decided by one goal, including two in overtime.

The Avalanche would seek to repeat the Lightning’s feat of back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. The Bolts would seek to qualify for their fourth straight Stanley Cup Final — something no team has done in 40 years. Both teams are a bit different than last year’s versions due to roster attrition. It would be fun to see the Lightning earn this rematch with a healthy Brayden Point in the lineup … which we know is asking a lot, unfortunately.

A rematch of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final, which at a minimum could mean seeing the impish Brett Hull doing live televised interviews for a few weeks.

Beyond that nostalgia, and two pretty good hockey teams battling for the Cup, this series had two interesting subplots:

Dallas coach Peter DeBoer used to coach New Jersey, leading them to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final; and New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff coached Dallas from 2013 to ’17. Then there’s the battle of the young stars, as the Devils’ Jack Hughes takes on the Stars’ Jason Robertson, two players that were in the Hart Trophy conversation this season.

If you want to be the king, you have to topple the throne. The Bruins had the most successful regular season in NHL history in terms of total wins (65) and points (135). To a man, they say none of that matters if they can’t go wire-to-wire and finish off that season by raising the Cup. Standing in their way: The 2022 champions, seeking their second straight title and looking to slay a juggernaut.

Give us Nathan MacKinnon against Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Give us the goal-scoring fireworks of David Pastrnak against Mikko Rantanen. Give us the young star defenseman showdown between Norris winner Cale Makar and Norris contender Charlie McAvoy.

Oh, and of course give us Hockey Hall of Famer Raymond Bourque dropping the ceremonial first puck before every game, having had his number retired in both cities, but winning the Stanley Cup only after Boston traded him to Colorado in 2000.

Again, the question that drives many of the most compelling Stanley Cup Final matchups is, “Who can stop the Boston Bruins?”

When the answer could be, “The best hockey player on Earth and his friend Leon, who is also a generational talent,” then you quickly understand why the Bruins and Oilers would be a money matchup.

McDavid and Draisaitl are chasing their first Stanley Cup. The Bruins are trying to complete one of the most dominant seasons in the history of professional team sports. Watching the Bruins’ game plan for these two players and the rest of the Oilers would be a hockey nerd’s dream — including a showdown between the supernatural offensive force that is McDavid against Bergeron, generally considered the best defensive forward in NHL history.

Apologies to Taylor Hall, however, for having to face the Edmonton media again like this.

As incredible as an Edmonton vs. Boston series might be … Connor McDavid in the Stanley Cup Final spotlight of Madison Square Garden is just too good to pass up.

Edmonton is chasing its first Stanley Cup since 1990 and would be trying to prevent the Rangers from winning their first since 1994. The star power in this series would be palpable, featuring Shesterkin taking on the Oilers’ two superstars.

Let’s also not forget that next year is the 30th anniversary of the Rangers’ last Stanley Cup — with a team that had more than a little Oilers dynasty DNA in its genetic code. Mark Messier, prepare to be interviewed with frequency!

Hopefully the New York tabloids are kind to Evander Kane

Absolutely the most perfect Final Boss for the Bruins’ journey to a Stanley Cup championship:

  • There’s Bruce Cassidy, the coach they fired after last season, who led the Golden Knights to a division championship. Every accolade given to Boston coach Jim Montgomery is a declaration that Cassidy was holding this group back … and wouldn’t Cassidy love to get one over on the Bruins?

  • There’s Jack Eichel, lifelong Bruins fan and Boston University product, trying to keep a Stanley Cup parade out of Boston.

  • There’s the Golden Knights themselves, whose transformation into an off-ice soap opera after their inaugural season Cup run has redefined them as a franchise.

This could be an incredible series, with two of the NHL’s most scintillating home-ice environments. Also there’s a pretty good chance the Golden Knight would fight an animatronic bear in the pregame festivities. Vegas, baby.

Other Stanley Cup Final possibilities are compelling. Some are tantalizing. This one feels … apocalyptic.

Picture, if you will, the city of Toronto, watching its Maple Leafs advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning it in 1967. Hundreds of thousands of fans crowding streets to watch games and be part of the vibe. Decades of agony potentially eased with an elusive championship. Parades quietly planned, as the NHL’s version of the Boston Red Sox and/or Chicago Cubs has the Holy Grail in its reach.

Picture, if you will, the rest of Canada, coming together to root against all of this happening.

With the Oilers on the other side of the ice, the Leafs wouldn’t even get the “bring Stanley back to Canada” benefit. Whoever wins, the Cup is headed north of the border for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens won it in 1993. No, the rest of Canada — all those fans who absolutely abhor Toronto being positioned as the “centre of the hockey universe,” who mockingly ask, “but how does this affect the Leafs?” whenever hockey news breaks — would be lining up behind the Oilers like Connor McDavid just caught Mjölnir and said, “Avengers! Assemble …”

True, there would be some bile swallowing for those fans. We imagine there will be more than a few Calgary fans having a crisis of conscience, for example. But they’ll watch. All of Canada will watch. There isn’t another series on the board that will command the attention from the hockey world that this one might.

The only thing standing in the way of a decades-long curse being broken is the best player on Earth. Now that’s an elevator pitch. Now that’s a Stanley Cup Final.

Articles You May Like

Playoff benching pushes Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner ‘to fight my way’
Six Nations is not Oiler country — watch party Saturday will cheer on hometown hero Brandon Montour
Sharks Drafting Macklin Celebrini Won’t Solve All Their Problems
Flames trade goalie Jacob Markstrom to Devils for 1st-round pick, defenceman Bahl
Oilers Can Win Stanley Cup if Their Top Scorers Get Back on Track

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *