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They're one win from Stanley Cup, but businesslike Panthers 'can't think about' that yet

Jordan McPherson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

All season, the Florida Panthers have been steadfast in their approach to every situation that has come their way.

Focus on what you can do right now. Don’t worry about what has happened or what’s to come. Control the present — this one game, one shift, one play, one opportunity.

As the stage got bigger — from their push to win the Atlantic Division to each successive round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to, now, the Stanley Cup Final — they have managed to stay within themselves.

“We don’t think too much ahead of ourselves,” Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. “We’re just staying with the moment and enjoy the moment.”

The biggest moment, the moment the Panthers have hoped to accomplish since the season began, is on the horizon.

After a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, the Panthers are up 3-0 in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final. One more win, and they will hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

It’s easy for a team to look ahead to that finish line. Tempting even.

But the Panthers are resisting that urge. They can’t deviate from the course that got them this far.

“It’s there for us, but you don’t think about it,” said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, the longest-tenured player in franchise history with 11 seasons. “You can’t think about it.”

Added center Sam Bennett: “I don’t think anyone can really look ahead. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The work has been ongoing since training camp began in September, nine long months ago. The Panthers still had the sting of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final on their mind then. It was a sobering end to a wild and unexpected playoff run — one that saw them go from being the last team to qualify for the postseason to making upset after upset before they ran out of gas and injuries finally caught up with them.

 

But the defeat also lit a fire under the team. The Panthers now knew what it took to get to the Stanley Cup Final. Now, they needed to figure out how to win it.

That meant a new level of dedication, another round of buy-in, an elevated understanding of what they needed to do to get one step further.

“Every team has its own personality,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said, “and I can say this, and you’ll have faith in the fact because I’ve said it before, this is a different group. ... The players have been running that room for the year — from training camp they’ve been running that room. I pop in every once in a while, say hello.”

The unity of this group is seen across the room, from the 14 players on the active roster who went through the run to the Final last year to the new faces acquired this offseason or at the trade deadline, from the superstars to the role players to those not playing because of Florida’s immaculate depth.

“A lot of these guys have been doing this for 200-plus games [over the past two seasons],” said forward Evan Rodrigues, who signed a four-year, $12 million deal this offseason. “They’re doing the same things, playing the same way. You go through all your routines and everything throughout the year and you find out what works for you so that when you get in a moment like this, you just do what you’ve done before. That’s what we’ll do: Play the same way we played all year. That’s kind of where our focus is.”

The Panthers haven’t deviated from their style as they continue to get closer to their goal. They have continued to implement Maurice’s defense-first, forecheck-heavy style that wears down opponents and leads to offense.

It was on display again Thursday, with Florida’s defense once again keeping Edmonton at bay while it built a lead. Sam Reinhart opened scoring in the final minute of the first period and Florida pushed its lead to 4-1 with a three-goal second period — with Vladimir Tarasenko, Bennett and Barkov finding the back of the net — before holding off a comeback bid by the Oilers in the third. Bobrovsky stopped 32 of 35 shots he faced and has now held Edmonton to just four goals through three games.

It has them one win away from the Stanley Cup.

But the Panthers can’t think about that, as tempting as it is. They still have work to do.

“Go win your day,” Panthers star winger Matthew Tkachuk said. “We won the game [Thursday], get out of here. [Friday] is probably a recovery day, no skate. Try to win that, go in to Game 4 and try to win that. That has been our mind set all year; win your day, whether it’s game day or not. Why change now?”


©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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