RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers will battle it out for NHL Eastern Conference supremacy beginning Thursday night.
It is the first ever playoff series between these two clubs, and the winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Hurricanes are hoping to reach the Final for the first time since 2006, where they beat the Edmonton Oilers in a thrilling seven-game series.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are looking for their second appearance in the Final. They got there in 1996, but were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
There's a couple interesting ties to keep an eye on in this series.
For one, Panthers bench boss Paul Maurice used to coach the Hurricanes. That run included two different stints over 11 seasons (1997-2003, 2008-2011), and a trip to the 2002 Cup Final, a five-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour played for Maurice during each of those tours of duty with Carolina before retiring and joining the coaching ranks.
Next, Florida's Eric Staal and Marc Staal will face Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal in the Playoff series that includes all three brothers.
Those are just two of the key storylines, as outlined by Armando Velez of Locked on Panthers and Jared Ellis of Locked on Hurricanes.
As Ellis points out, the Hurricanes will be getting a huge boost in the return of Teuvo Teravainen after he was injured in the first round series against the New York Islanders.
This series might very well come down to goaltending, and Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky has been especially impressive since coming into the lineup.
He won three straight against the first-place Boston Bruins, then went 4-1 with a .943 save percentage in the second round against the high-powered Maple Leafs.
In the other net, Frederik Andersen has started the past six games and is 5-0 with a .931 save percentage.
What could help the Panthers even more here is their stellar record of 6-1 on the road in the playoffs, including six straight wins. They're also 4-0 in overtime games, and have faced a tougher road to get to this point than the Hurricanes.
Carolina was the better team during the regular season, but there's just something about these Panthers, and Mattherw Tkachuk is probably the best individual player remaining in the postseason.
Prediction: Panthers in 7