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Panthers win franchise's first Stanley Cup with Game 7 win over Oilers

Jordan McPherson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

From the outset, the Florida Panthers said this was going to happen. They made the declaration in training camp that they were going to finish the job they couldn’t finish last year. The 2023-24 season would not be a success without a Stanley Cup.

They proved themselves right.

The Florida Panthers have won the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 30-season history, sealing the deal with a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at Amerant Bank Arena.

However, the final push to the finish line left little room for comfort.

Florida won the first three games of the series by scores of 3-0, 4-1 and 4-3, then lost the next three games — 8-1 in Game 4, 5-3 in Game 5 and 5-1 in Game 6 — to force the winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday.

After three games looking like a shell of themselves and allowing the Oilers to get back into the series, Florida returned to form when it needed to the most.

Two of its stars that were quiet for most of the series in Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart scored goals.

Veteran defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who spent his first seven of 15 NHL seasons with the Panthers before returning to Florida this season, saved a game-tying goal late in the second period by clearing a puck as he crashed to the net. That play set up Reinhart’s go-ahead goal.

And goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky shut down Edmonton, stopping 23-of-24 shots he faced.

With that, it ends one of the longest droughts for an NHL franchise before winning its first Stanley Cup.

Only four other teams in NHL history waited longer than 30 seasons before hoisting the Cup for the first time: The St. Louis Blues (51 seasons), Los Angeles Kings (44 seasons), Washington Capitals (43 seasons) and Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars (32 seasons).

And this comes after the Panthers lost in the Stanley Cup Final just last year in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights, making them the first team since the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Stanley Cup the year after losing in the Cup Final.

The Panthers are also the final of South Florida’s big-four professional sports teams to win a championship. The Miami Dolphins won Super Bowls in 1972 and 1973. The Miami Marlins won World Series in 1997 and 2003. The Miami Heat won NBA championships in 2006, 2012 and 2013.

So how did this Panthers team do it? How did this Panthers team become the first in franchise history to win it all?

There are many individuals you can focus on for the success.

 

You can point to coach Paul Maurice, in his 26th season as an NHL head coach who implemented a defense-first, forecheck-heavy system that got the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final in both of his seasons with the Panthers.

Or perhaps Aleksander Barkov, the team’s unassuming captain and longest-tenured player who is the epitome of a complete, 200-foot player and whose talent is only exceeded by his work ethic.

Or Matthew Tkachuk, the brash star winger who the Panthers acquired ahead of the 2022-23 season to give them a player with the combination of tenacity, skill and edge the team was sorely lacking.

Or Bobrovsky, the veteran goaltender who returned to his All-Star and Vezina Trophy-worthy form over the past two years after three seasons to mostly forget to begin his Panthers tenure.

That would be missing the point, though. This Panthers team doesn’t point to one singular player. That’s not how they operate.

They won with their depth. They won with their togetherness. They won with a belief that, no matter what happens, they can overcome whatever situation is thrown their way.

“I can’t explain it to you any better, but these guys are different,” Maurice said. “They talk about each other differently than I’ve experienced — and listen, I’ve been really lucky. I haven’t had a real tough room in my entire career, but I’ve never had a room where the players talk about each other in such a positive way, celebrate the other players’ accomplishments and not go ‘Well, if you played me more, I could do what he does.’ There’s none of that. And also [they’re] a highly interactive group. So in those conversations, they’re asking you questions about your kids and all of it. It’s just completely different. It comes from them that connection that they have.”

That got them through a regular season in which they never lost more than four consecutive games and ultimately won the Atlantic Division.

That got them past Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, eliminating their in-state rival from the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

That got them past the Boston Bruins in the second round, eliminating the division foe for a second consecutive season.

That got them past the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final, eliminating the Presidents’ Trophy winner for a second consecutive year.

And that culminated with the franchise winning its first Stanley Cup on Monday.

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

 

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