The conference finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature four teams in two best-of-7 series, which start Thursday. Today, NHL.com previews the Eastern Conference Final between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers.
(M1) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (WC2) Florida Panthers
Hurricanes: 52-21-9, 113 points; 4-2 to win first round against New York Islanders; 4-1 to win second round against New Jersey Devils.
Panthers: 42-32-8, 92 points; 4-3 to win first round against Boston Bruins; 4-1 to win second round against Toronto Maple Leafs
Season Series: CAR 2-1-0; FLA 1-2-0
Game 1: Thursday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS)
It will be brothers against brother and old friends turned into foes when the Florida Panthers take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.
Eric Staal and Marc Staal of the Panthers will face Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal in the first Stanley Cup Playoff series that includes all three brothers. Eric Staal played 12 seasons for the Hurricanes (2003-2016), won the Stanley Cup with them in 2006 and was their captain for seven seasons (2009-16).
Florida coach Paul Maurice coached Carolina for 11 seasons over two stints (1997-2003, 2008-2011), including a trip to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, a five-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour played for Maurice during each of his stints with Carolina and then, after retiring in 2010, got his start in coaching as one of his assistants.
All of that will be put aside with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final at stake.
"Once we get into the series, it's kind of a free for all of just playing the game and getting into it," Jordan Staal said. "We'll kiss and make up after it."
This will be the first playoff series between the teams.
[RELATED: Complete Hurricanes vs. Panthers series coverage]
The Hurricanes hope to reach the Final for the first time since 2006. The Panthers will try to get there for the first time since 1996, when they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
Carolina overcame injuries to top forwards Andrei Svechnikov (torn ACL), Max Pacioretty (torn Achilles tendon) and Teuvo Teravainen (fractured hand) to reach the conference final for the first time since 2019. It finished second in the NHL with 113 points during the regular season.
Florida is back in the conference final for the first time since 1996 after upsetting the Boston Bruins (65-12-5), who won the Presidents' Trophy and set NHL records with 65 wins and 135 points, and the Toronto Maple Leafs (50-21-11), who were fourth in the NHL with 111 points.
"We are real comfortable in kind of a hard fight," Maurice said. "We'll take a bunch of punches in this Carolina series, for sure. We've been pretty good at getting off the mat."
Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho is tied with Jordan Martinook for first on Carolina with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 11 playoff games after the forward was second with 67 points (team-leading 36 goals, 31 assists) in 75 regular-season games. Although Aho had a relatively quiet second round (one goal, two assists), he demonstrated in the first round he can be a difference-maker with a team-high seven points (four goals, three assists) in six games against the Islanders.
Panthers: Matthew Tkachuk leads Florida with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 12 playoff games after leading it with an NHL career-high 109 points (40 goals, 69 assists) in 79 regular-season games. A finalist for the Hart Trophy given to the most valuable player in the NHL, the forward didn't score a goal in the second round but had five assists and was second on the Panthers with 22 hits in the series behind Sam Bennett's 24.
Video: FLA@TOR, Gm1: Bennett deflects a shot into the net
Hurricanes: After Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta continued to share the net in the playoffs, Andersen has started the past six games and is 5-0 with a 1.80 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Raanta started the first five and is 3-2 with a 2.59 GAA and .906 save percentage. Andersen didn't dress for Games 2-4 of the first round because of an illness and minor injury. Raanta was unavailable for Games 2-4 of the second round because of an illness.
Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky has reclaimed the No. 1 job, starting the past nine games after Alex Lyon started the first three playoff games and final eight regular-season games. Bobrovsky is 7-2 with a 2.82 GAA and .918 save percentage in 10 games, including 4-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .943 save percentage in the second round. Lyon went 1-2 with a 3.26 GAA and .902 save percentage in his three starts.
Numbers to know
Hurricanes: Carolina is an NHL-best 27-for-30 (90 percent) with four shorthanded goals on the penalty kill in the playoffs and 7-for-37 (18.9 percent) on the power play, including 2-for-12 (16.7 percent) in the second round. The Hurricanes lead the NHL with a plus-82 differential in 5-on-5 shot attempts and is averaging a League-low 27.8 shots against per game. Carolina is 5-1 at home in the playoffs. The Hurricanes are 3-0 in playoff overtime and have won seven straight OT games since 2021.
Panthers: Florida is 8-for-29 (27.6 percent) on the power play in the playoffs, including 3-for-9 (33.3 percent) in the second round. The Panthers are 25-for-38 (65.8 percent) on the penalty kill but were 9-for-11 (81.8 percent) in the second round. Florida is minus-26 in 5-on-5 shot attempts and has allowed 35.3 shots against per game. The Panthers are 6-1 on the road in the playoffs, including six straight wins. The Panthers are 4-0 in playoff overtime and have won seven straight OT games since 2021.
Hurricanes: Brent Burns has added another dimension to the defense since being acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks on July 13, 2022. He is tied for third on the Hurricanes with eight points (two goals, six assists) in the playoffs and helped to drive their offense with a team-high 41 shots on goal while averaging a team-high 23:55 of ice time. Carolina has gotten seven goals from defensemen after leading the NHL with 59 at the position in the regular season.
Panthers: Carter Verhaeghe is second on Florida with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and has a knack for coming through in big moments with a team-leading three game-winning goals. Verhaeghe leads the NHL with six game-winning goals and three overtime goals over the past two postseasons, including series-clinching overtime goals against the Washington Capitals in the 2022 first round and Boston in the first round this season.
Video: NJD@CAR, Gm5: Burns fires a shot into net from deep
They said it
"We've been saying all along, it's going to be a broken record, but we're going to have to be at our best. We know the team we're playing. They've got everything covered, top to bottom. That's why they're still playing." -- Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour
"Nobody in the world thought we were going to be in this position right now, but we don't care what anybody's opinion is on us. We know that it's probably going to be very similar going into this round against a team like Carolina that had tremendous season and have had tons of success the last bunch of years. -- Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk
Will win if …
Hurricanes: Depth forwards like Martinook (three goals, seven assists), Jesper Fast (five goals, three assists) and Jordan Staal (two goals, six assists) continue to help offset injuries and the tandem of Andersen and Raanta remains steady. Teravainen's potential return later in the series would be a boost.
Panthers: Bobrovsky stays hot, the line of Nick Cousins (two goals, four assists), Bennett (four goals, four assists) and Tkachuk continues to be productive and disruptive, and the defense can withstand the sustained pressure created by the Hurricanes forecheck.
Video: NJD@CAR, Gm5: Fast deflects PPG to win Game 5 in OT
How they look
Hurricanes projected lineup
Stefan Noesen -- Sebastian Aho -- Seth Jarvis
Jordan Martinook -- Jesperi Kotkaniemi -- Jesper Fast
Jack Drury -- Jordan Staal -- Martin Necas
Mackenzie MacEachern -- Paul Stastny -- Derek Stepan
Jaccob Slavin -- Brent Burns
Brady Skjei -- Brett Pesce
Shayne Gostisbehere -- Jalen Chatfield
Scratched: Dylan Coghlan, Calvin de Haan, Jesse Puljujarvi, Pyotr Kochetkov
Injured: Andrei Svechnikov (torn ACL), Max Pacioretty (torn Achilles), Teuvo Teravainen (fractured hand), Ondrej Kase (concussion)
Panthers projected lineup
Carter Verhaeghe -- Aleksander Barkov -- Anthony Duclair
Nick Cousins -- Sam Bennett -- Matthew Tkachuk
Eetu Luostarinen -- Anton Lundell -- Sam Reinhart
Colin White -- Eric Staal -- Zac Dalpe
Gustav Forsling -- Aaron Ekblad
Marc Staal -- Brandon Montour
Josh Mahura -- Radko Gudas
Scratched: Givani Smith, Mike Benning, Casey Fitzgerald, Evan Fitzpatrick
Injured: Ryan Lomberg (upper body), Patric Hornqvist (concussion)