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Ranking the 4 potential Stanley Cup Final matchups

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After Edmonton's thrilling Game 7 win Monday, the conference finals of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set, and they should be doozies.

The Oilers will face the Dallas Stars in the West, while the New York Rangers will battle the Florida Panthers in the East. Unlike many other seasons, no Cinderella stories are taking place in 2024. This year's third round features three of four division winners and an Oilers squad that led the NHL in points after hiring Kris Knoblauch as head coach in mid-November.

We're also destined to end a lengthy Stanley Cup drought, as the Oilers (1990), Rangers (1994), Stars (1999), and Panthers (none since entering the league in 1993) have all paid their dues while waiting for a championship.

There's no shortage of eye-catching storylines for each team left, but we've already broken down each squad heading into the final four. We'll skip ahead and rank the best possible Stanley Cup Final matchups.

4. Panthers vs. Stars

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The Stars and Panthers would likely offer fun-to-watch, fast-paced hockey if they met with a championship on the line, but this clash lacks the pizzazz of the other possibilities. We aren't knocking either squad, but unless you're a hardcore hockey fan, chances are you probably aren't well aware of what these teams have to offer.

Both Dallas and Florida are deep with quality players and play a sturdy defensive game. That could create a tight-checking brand of hockey that doesn't always bring fans out of their seats. There's some notable star power on both teams - Aleksander Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk, and Miro Heiskanen, among others - who could change that narrative and drive an offensive game. Still, the Stars and Panthers are the top two teams remaining in terms of goals against.

A second consecutive all-Sunbelt Stanley Cup Final (Florida lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023) may result in lower TV ratings and draw the ire of Cup-starved fans of bigger markets, but the NHL would likely be happy about continuing to grow the game down South.

3. Rangers vs. Stars

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At first glance, this matchup feels like a solid weeknight feature in the regular season, but hockey fans can't ask for much more than the top seed in each conference competing for the title. The Rangers and Stars were the NHL's two best teams this season by points and project to match up fairly evenly. The X-factor for both squads comes between the pipes, as Igor Shesterkin and Jake Oettinger have been the two best goalies in the playoffs.

Both netminders are firmly in the Conn Smythe race, but not everyone loves a goalie duel - especially on the biggest stage. Beyond the stars in the crease, there's not an overflow of compelling storylines between clubs that lack a shared history. There are some veterans on each side - Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter for Dallas, Blake Wheeler and Chris Kreider for New York - whose first championship would make for a feel-good story, but that's not enough for a top-two spot in our rankings.

2. Panthers vs. Oilers

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With all due respect to the Stars, we picked the Oilers as the Western representative in each of our top two matchups. The sport benefits from showcasing the best players, and Connor McDavid competing for the Stanley Cup for the first time is easily the most captivating outcome the NHL has to offer.

Edmonton has been must-see TV this spring, pouring in nearly four goals per game and converting 37.5% of its power-play opportunities. The Oilers boast the top four scorers in these playoffs - Leon Draisaitl, McDavid, Evan Bouchard, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - as well as leading goal-getter Zach Hyman. The club's core labeled this season "Stanley Cup or bust," and they've stayed true to their word so far as the team aims to snap Canada's championship drought at 31 years.

As fun as the Oilers are to watch, the Panthers would offer a significant test. Florida may have the antidote to Edmonton's attack in Barkov, who ran away with the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward this season. Watching the captains go toe to toe in a series-long chess match would produce remarkable theater for Xs and Os aficionados and casual fans alike.

Another fun aspect of this series would be Tkachuk renewing hostilities with the Oilers. The Panthers winger sparked some unforgettable drama in the Battle of Alberta during his years with the Calgary Flames, and you can guarantee he'd be in the thick of things again.

1. Rangers vs. Oilers

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The Panthers might offer better storylines against the Oilers on the ice, but McDavid and Co. competing for the Cup against the league's biggest American market is a dream scenario for the NHL. The best player in the world aiming to cement his legacy as an all-time great in the World's Most Famous Arena is storybook stuff.

The Rangers don't have a matchup to slow down McDavid but can rely on all-world defenseman Adam Fox and Shesterkin as the last line of defense. New York's best bet might be trying to match Edmonton offensively with a top six as good as any in the league. The Oilers and Rangers engaging in a track meet would make for a breathtaking series, enhanced by two of the best crowds in the sport.

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