Who will play for Stanley Cup? Picks and predictions for NHL conference finals

The Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars have earned a return trip to the conference finals.

The New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers are back after a one-year absence.

Of that group, only the Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final the past two postseasons, but now two teams will get a shot.

The Rangers-Panthers Eastern Conference final series opens Wednesday in New York (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Stars-Oilers Western Conference final opens in Dallas on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT, truTV)

USA TODAY Sports' Mike Brehm and Jace Evans make their predictions for who advances out of the Eastern and Western Conference finals:


New York Rangers vs. Florida Panthers

Mike Brehm: Rangers in 7. The Rangers were rolling through the playoffs before the Hurricanes picked up two wins. But when it looked like the series might go to seven games, Chris Kreider came through with a third-period hat trick. The Rangers have the depth to match up with the Panthers and their special teams can help make up for their deficiencies at five-on-five play. They'll have to shore up that part of their game, though.

Jace Evans: Panthers in 6. This series feels like a coin flip – and given some of the characters involved, it has the potential to be nasty. New York’s 7-0 playoff start, which matched the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team’s, definitely produced some “team of destiny” vibes. More pertinent to this series, though, the Rangers have a sizzling power play, strong penalty kill and the best goalie left in the playoffs. But I think the Panthers’ superior five-on-five play will be the difference-maker in this series.


Dallas Stars vs. Edmonton Oilers

Mike Brehm: Stars in 6. I originally picked the Stars to reach the Stanley Cup Final then mistakenly picked against them in the last round because I didn't think they'd be able to stop the Colorado Avalanche. They did and I think they can do the same to the high-flying Oilers. They play a strong defensive game, which helps them thrive on the road. They just need to be better on the penalty kill.

Jace Evans: Oilers in 7. I have no real reason to pick Edmonton. The Stars’ goaltending is significantly better. Their defense is better. Their forward depth is better. So why am I picking the Oilers? Because the Oilers have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the best players of their generation in their prime. Draisaitl has arguably become the top big-game performer in the NHL. He had 32 points in 16 playoff games in 2022, tied for the league lead in playoff goals last season (13) despite playing just 12 games in two rounds and this year has 24 points in 12 games. The scary thing is I think McDavid could take his game up a level – he has 21 points in 12 games but just two goals while shooting 6.3%.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoffs bracket predictions: Who wins conference finals?