We're down to the wire in the NBA and NHL playoffs.
With a pair of wins last night, the finals for pro basketball and hockey are set. And they share a very surprising common feature.
That because this year's NBA and NHL finals will both feature a team from the Miami area: the Miami Heat and the Florida Panthers. (The Panthers play in Sunrise, Florida, which is part of the Greater Miami area.)
And if both teams win? It will be the first time ever that two teams from the same metro area have won both the Larry O'Brien Trophy (NBA) and the Stanley Cup (NHL). Wild!
Underdogs bite back
In addition, these two teams came into the playoffs as massive underdogs. They were both eighth seeds—the lowest possible position to qualify for the postseason. If they win their championships, it will also be the first time two 'eights' have won the NBA and NHL titles in the same season.
The Heat had to play two extra games just to qualify for these year's playoffs. And the Panthers? A seven-game point streak at the end of the season allowed them to squeak into the postseason by a single point.
But as they say, once you're in the playoffs, you're in—all the teams start over from the same place. Both these teams have proven this over and over. Even when the Panthers faced the Boston Bruins in the first round—the team that just had the greatest regular season in NHL history—Florida fought back to win the series and advance.
With so much attention on South Florida's incredible run these days, you could easily forget about them teams that they are facing in the finals. But the Heat and Panthers certainly haven't forgotten about them, so neither will we! Let's look at how each of these thrilling contests are shaping. (And why their opponents are eager to chase their own history.)
NBA: Denver Nuggets vs. Miami Heat
While Jimmy Butler and the Heat were busy trying to put away the potent Boston Celtics, the Denver Nuggets have been resting for an entire week. They beat the L.A. Lakers in four straight games and are led by two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic.
To say Jokic has been dominant this playoff would be a big understatement. In their series-clinching win over the Lakers, he set a new NBA playoff record for most triple-doubles in a postseason with eight. (A triple-double is when a player scores double-digit totals—over ten—in points, rebounds, and assists.) And he still has at least four more games to expand that record!
Denver also features Canadian Jamal Murray, who has been on his own scoring tear, helping the Nuggets to one of the best offensive outputs in NBA playoff history. They are very hungry to give Denver its first-ever NBA championship.
So far, the Miami Heat has used tireless team defense (and a relaxed, confident attitude) to shut down powerhouse teams like the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. They have to do it one more time if they hope to deny the magical Jokic and the Nuggets.
NHL: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Florida Panthers
It wasn't that long ago that the Golden Knights were a brand new team having their first season in the NHL. Expectations were low, as they are for any expansion team. Instead, Vegas went all the way to the 2018 Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Washington Capitals.
Now five years later, they are back and eager to win it all. And they are undoubtedly a better team than they were then.
With stars like Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo, and Mark Stone, the Golden Knights are big and skilled. Even the mighty Edmonton Oiler duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl couldn't find a way to handle their balanced attack.
Florida doesn't have two players quite that good (no NHL team does!). But they do have Matthew Tkachuk, who has completely changed the Panthers identity since coming over from Calgary in a trade last summer. Instead of just using scoring and style to beat opponents, they use a relentless forecheck to wear teams out. Want proof?
In their last 12 games this playoff, 10 of them have been decided by a single goal, and 6 of them have ended in nail-biting overtime. The Panthers have won 11 of those games—games where their spectacular goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, has rarely let in more than two goals.
Much like the Heat, the Panthers are playing free and easy, like they have nothing to lose. They're not even supposed to be here, right?
But will that easy feeling change now that they're so close to making history? The Heat is on!