Ranking the best possible Stanley Cup Final matchups: Where does Bruins-Golden Knights land?


The Stanley Cup Final is the grand finale of the NHL season. It’s just that some finales are a bit grander than others.

Here are the 10 best possible Stanley Cup Final matchups in 2024, based on the teams that have a mathematically significant chance of making the playoff cut (better than 5%) heading into Thursday’s games.

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. We tried to spread the wealth through all the possible playoff teams instead of just saying “Vegas vs. everyone” — as valid as that answer might have been.

We release this ranking with apologies to the good people of Winnipeg, as the Jets are a great team but one that didn’t naturally fit into our top 10. If it’s any consolation, the “White Out” remains one of hockey’s greatest playoff traditions.

Let’s look at the best Stanley Cup Final matchups on the board:

The battle of the bridesmaids, as it were. The Hurricanes were swept by the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference finals last season, while the Stars lost a delightfully contentious Western final against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights — please recall the Jamie Benn vs. Mark Stone incident.

Beyond seeing these teams finally get their shot at the Cup, they’re both really compelling contenders. The Rod Brind’Amour Canes are trying to level up after defying their own trade deadline philosophy by acquiring Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Stars are trying to deliver the first Cup ring to a gaggle of veterans — chief among them Joe Pavelski — with one of the deepest rosters in the tournament.

It’s clear that Alex Ovechkin‘s pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time NHL goals record is something that resonates with casual hockey fans and general sports fans. That record chase could get some of the spotlight in a Capitals Stanley Cup Final against the two teams most synonymous with Gretzky — with apologies to the New York Rangers and especially the St. Louis Blues, of course.

Of course, you’d also get Ovechkin vs. McDavid in the Oilers series, as one generation’s megastar who carried the offensive torch for the NHL meets his successor. And in the Kings series you’d get Tom Wilson vs. Drew Doughty, which could be impactful.

There are some interesting parallels between the Bolts and the Nucks.

Both teams are decidedly top-heavy, but with stars who can carry the load. Both teams have an elite defenseman, with the best of the past decade (Victor Hedman) facing the likely Norris Trophy winner this season (Quinn Hughes). You’ve got Brayden Point vs. Elias Pettersson in the ultimate “people don’t realize how truly good this guy is!” showdown. There’s the dynasty looking for another crown jewel vs. the franchise looking for its first Stanley Cup win.

Heck, there’s even a storyline with Rick Tocchet having coached both teams.

But really, we’re here for the incredible travel distances between the two cities, as the media spend more time on cross-continent flights than they will at local watering holes after games. Which is saying something. (See also: Florida Panthers vs. Canucks)

The Bruno Bowl!

Andrew Brunette was a Jack Adams finalist in 2021-22, leading Florida to first place in its division as an interim coach before losing in the second round of the playoffs, after which he was unceremoniously dumped in favor of Paul Maurice. In his second head-coaching gig, Brunette led the surprising Predators to the Western Conference playoffs, installing a fast-skating, offensive system into a franchise that has been more synonymous with goaltending and defense.

Which is to say that a Predators vs. Panthers Stanley Cup Final would be a ton of fun.

Two teams filled with quirky personalities and great players. Florida trying to win the Stanley Cup that eluded it last season. Both teams trying to win for the first time in franchise history. The parties on Broadway and the beach. It might not be the ideal matchup for fans up north, but it would certainly have a unique flavor.

For full-on star power, there aren’t many matchups that rival the Leafs’ trinity of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander against the Avalanche’s troika of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen.

It could potentially be a battle between the Rocket Richard and Art Ross winners in Matthews and MacKinnon: an American-born star trying to lead his Canadian team to its first Stanley Cup since 1967 vs. a Canadian-born star trying to lead his team to a second Cup in three seasons.

Making Nathan MacKinnon the Final Boss for a Leafs Cup run is a must-see matchup.

Nostalgia sells, whether we’re talking WrestleMania main events or streaming service content.

  • The Islanders and Oilers defined the 1980s more than pastels, hair metal and Gordon Gekko.

  • The Red Wings and Avalanche had a blood feud that many consider the best NHL rivalry of the past 30 years and was the subject of a recent E:60 documentary. Detroit and Colorado had a tantalizing uptick in ire during a meeting this season.

  • If we’re playing some greatest hits, we’ll gladly revisit the matchups that produced the Rangers’ 1994 championship and the Bruins’ 2011 Cup, both in seven-game series. Perhaps this matchup turns out differently for the Canucks this time, and we really hope it turns out better for the city of Vancouver than it did in 1994 and 2011.

Sometimes, you just want to see King Kong fight Godzilla.

The Rangers have been the best team in the NHL since the All-Star break. The Stars have rolled to the top of the Western Conference. Two excellent teams with great goaltending, deep rosters, star defensemen, a bit of snarl and a gaggle of veteran players all looking for their first drink from the Stanley Cup.

Big D vs. the Big Apple. Matt Rempe vs. Jamie Benn. Chris Kreider vs. Pavelski, to see who can score the most goals off their bodies. Let’s go.

The Obi-Wan vs. Anakin battle we’ve all been waiting for, only they’re not floating down a river of lava on Mustafar but playing near the three rivers in Pittsburgh.

Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon are the pride of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, although Sid is more prominently mentioned on the town sign. They’re friends, training partners, master and apprentice. This would be one of the great star vs. star battles in Stanley Cup Final history.

Obviously, the Penguins making the Final would be a tremendous story, as the veteran core seeks to squeeze out one more ring from their elite NHL careers. But the Avalanche have some great stories of their own — Jonathan Drouin, anyone? — and the chance to start putting the foundation down on a possible dynasty should they win another Cup.

It should have been you last year, Boston. You set regular-season records for wins and points. You had the league’s best defense, best goaltending and second-best offense. You had the great vibes from trying to send off Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci with Stanley Cup rings. You had it all … until the Panthers took it from you.

And then you had to watch your former coach, Bruce Cassidy, and Boston University’s own Jack Eichel lift the Cup instead.

To have the Bruins and Golden Knights face off for the Cup would be the chance for Boston to find redemption, while Vegas attempts to sit atop the throne for a second straight season. It’s a series filled with star players and gifted agitators, as well as star players who are also gifted agitators.

It’s a series of fantastic defense and blunt-force physicality. It’s a series with Eichel playing in Boston and David Pastrnak dressing for Las Vegas. It’s two absolutely hockey-mad markets and unique home-ice advantages.

What an absolute joy this would be to watch. Provided you don’t hate these franchises with every fiber of your being.

We’ve been trying to explain the Leafs to some people who don’t follow the NHL, aka fans who have yet to let the light of hockey into their hearts.

“Picture the Chicago Cubs before they ended the World Series drought,” we’d say, “except everybody despises them and wants their drought to continue until the sun explodes.”

The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, which is also the last time they played for the Cup. If Toronto was to make it to the Stanley Cup Final, an entire nation would fracture into Leafs loyalists and everyone else. That Connor McDavid — an Ontario native, and the best hockey player on the planet — would be the one standing between Toronto and the Cup makes for maximum drama.

Canada hasn’t seen a Stanley Cup winner since 1993. One of these teams would snap that drought. To have these two teams battle it out to see if the Leafs’ drought also ends would up the ante and makes it the best Stanley Cup matchup on the board.

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