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Panthers go for NY knockout, reach Stanley Cup Final back-to-back years - CBS Miami's Steve Goldstein

CBS News Miami Sports Live

MIAMI - To be the best you must beat the best and after rolling through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Florida Panthers face the President's Trophy-winning NY Rangers in the eastern conference final starting Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

New York was the best regular-season team and in 8-2 in the playoffs. Both teams won their division with the Rangers finishing four points ahead in the standings. But many hockey observers feel Florida is the favorite in the series. They have won six series in the last three years and are in the conference final for the second consecutive year. The Rangers are playing in the east final for the second time in the last three years. Sprinkle in the sports rivalry between South Florida and New York and the sure-to-be wild atmospheres at Amerant Bank Arena and MSG and this series has the makings of a classic.

Back to back?
The Panthers look to become the first team in 15 years, since Pittsburgh in 2009, to return to the Stanley Cup Final after losing in the final the previous season.

Road Warriors
Playing away from Amerant Bank Arena has not only been OK for the Panthers, but it's also been downright great. They are a remarkable 12-2 in the playoffs in the eastern conference the last 2 playoff runs. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is 11-1 with a 933 save percentage. The Panthers aggressive defensive system combined with a competitive hunger that's unmatched travels well. Road teams in the NHL are interestingly above .500 in the playoffs the last two years.

Long Wait
The final four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs are looking to make a new memory for their fans. The Panthers have never won the cup. The Rangers have won it once in 74 years with the win coming 30 years ago. Out west, Dallas in on a 25 year championship drought and Edmonton's cupless count in at 34 years. One team will raise sports most famous trophy next month, ending a long drought.

New York has great high-end skill, red hot special teams, and it's nearly impossible to beat goalie Igor Shesterkin on clean looks. The Rangers are the top come-from-behind team in the league. The Panthers are the better defensive and forechecking team, in fact, likely the best in the league in both departments. They also play a heavy playoff style of hockey and have the experience after last year's cup run. While the Rangers power play is rolling, the Panthers penalty kill has been outstanding. New York has been excellent on the PK as well, scoring as many goals as they've allowed in the playoffs. The Panthers want to play even strength as much as possible where they have the clear advantage. Both coaches are experienced and have been this far in the playoffs numerous times.

So, What Gives?
Playoffs are about defense and who is willing and able to grind it out when needed, play in the dirty areas at the net and manage the highs and lows of emotional series. New York is a fantastic team and has many of the elements needed but the Panthers are slightly better in the key areas including the blueline. They look like a team on a mission to finish what they started last year and aren't just happy to be here. Florida has the best player in the series in Aleksander Barkov. These are the two best teams in the east and perhaps the NHL. The winner will be the favorite in the cup final. After controlling their last four playoff series wins and taking them in five, four, five, and six games the call here is this one goes the distance with the Panthers pulling it out in seven games.

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