Legacies cemented after Panthers win Stanley Cup

Florida’s Game 7 Stanley Cup Final win will be remembered forever.


It was a truly historic day in Panthers history as the franchise took home its first Cup in their 30 years of existence.


The win was the first Cup for all but two players (Vladimir Tarasenko, Carter Verhaeghe) and it cemented the legacies of many within the Panthers organization. 


Aleksander Barkov became the first captain from Finland to win the Stanley Cup, 17-year NHL veteran Kyle Okposo finally attained hockey’s greatest prize, Oliver Ekman-Larsson became a champion just a year after being one of the largest buyouts in NHL history, Dmitry Kulikov returns to win where he was drafted 15 years before — the storylines were plentiful. 


 Now that they’ve finished the job, a few Panthers should expect to see their name among hockey’s greatest sometime in the near future.


 Bobrovsky, you’re on the Cup


35-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky had nearly everything you could ask for as a goaltender. Over his 14-year NHL career, the Russian native had been a first team All-Star twice, an NHL All-Star three times, a two-time Vezina winner, is 14th all-time in wins — and has the most by a Russian — holds three World Championship medals and was an olympian.


The one achievement that was missing from his Hall of Fame resume was a Stanley Cup — now he has it. 



“It means a lot, it’s a dream come true,” Bobrovsky told TSN after winning the Cup . “I’m so happy to be here. It’s an amazing moment. It’s the hardest trophy to win and for a reason. We’re happy.” 


Posting a 2.32 GAA and .906 save percentage this postseason, Florida doesn’t win the Cup this year without Bobrovsky and they certainly wouldn’t have made the Final last year either. 


When Bobrovsky retires, there’s no doubt that he will be elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame and it seems almost certain that he should get in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  


By the time he calls it a career, Bobrovsky should finish top-10 all-time in wins (needs 27 more) and he still has the chance to win more hardware. But even if he walked away from the game tomorrow, he’d still be getting the call from the Hall. 


Paul Maurice finally did it


The other Panther that will be seeing his name enshrined within the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Esso Great Hall for the rest of time is the man who led his group of men to hockey immortality — head coach Paul Maruice.


A proud son of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Paul Maurice has been one of the most prominent figures in the National Hockey League for the better part of 30 years.


After getting his first NHL head coaching job at the fresh age of 28 back in 1995 with the Hartford Whalers, Maurice has waited a long time to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. 


With 24-seasons as a head coach under his belt between Hartford, Carolina, Toronto, Winnipeg and Florida — Maurice’s name is near the top of the coaching record books. 


He’s coached the second most games in NHL history (1,848) and has the fourth most wins (869). Despite the plethora of experience in the NHL, Maurice was still searching for his Stanley Cup. 


“I need to win one,” Maurice said on June 7, just a day before Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final. “That’s the truth, that’s how I feel. I’m 30 years into this thing, I wouldn’t mind winning one — how about that?”


Maurice came close twice to winning it all, making the Cup Final in 2002 with the Hurricanes and then last year in 2023 with the Panthers — losing both of those series.


Entering Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Maurice was 4-0 in his career in a Game 7. 


In by far the most important Game 7 of his career, Maurice kept that undefeated streak alive and finally won the Stanley Cup. 


On Monday night after all the players took their lap with the Cup, 23-year-old Spencer Knight came over to Maurice mid-interview and said “here you go,” handing over the Cup to a man who got his start in the NHL nearly six years before he was born. 


With his eyes closed, Maurice hoisted the Cup over his head as cheers poured down from the stands at Amerant Bank Arena and his players watched nearby. 


“F– yeah,” Maurice shouted as he pumped the Cup in the air. He finished the job. 


“It’s for my mom and dad in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario,” Maurice told Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas postgame. “All of the people that suffered through 30 years of me losing and making excuses. Mom and dad especially.”


“Hey dad, your name’s going up with your heroes,” an emotional Maurice added. “Beliveau, Richard, Howe, Lindsay, Maurice.” 


The once young man behind the bench is now a grizzled 57-year-old vet and he finally has his Stanley Cup. 


Like Bobrovsky, this should all but guarantee Maurice — the second winningest coach in NHL history —  a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. 


Who’s next?


I think it’s clear that if Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov continues producing at the same rate, he’ll hit 1,000 games and 1,000 points in the NHL — he’s already surpassed 700 for both of those at 28. Just the tenth player ever to win the Selke trophy more than once, Florida’s  franchise leader in virtually every record and now the first captain in Panthers history and the first captain from Finland to win the Cup, Barkov is on the right path for a Hall of Fame career.


“It’s incredible,” Barkov said after Florida won the Cup. “It’s hard to describe what’s going on and what just happened.” 


Aaron Ekblad, a former first-overall pick and the second longest tenured Panthers after Barkov, will more than likely see his name hang from the rafter at Amerant Bank Arena once he retires. The holder of most games, goals, assists and points by a Panthers defenseman across his 10-years in Florida — No. 5 should belong to Ekblad and Ekblad only.


“They always say you can’t f—ing get the words out man, it’s incredible, this is amazing” Ekblad said on Sportsnet after Game 7. “Sorry for swearing but this is the best moment of my life so far. Nothing tops it.”


Whether they find themselves in  the Hall of Fame, in the rafters or just in an alumni suite, the 2024 Florida Panthers are the greatest team in franchise history and will be remembered for eternity as the very first team to bring the Stanley Cup to South Florida.

Coach Paul Maurice hoists the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career after the Florida Panthers defeated the Edmonton Oilers in Game 7. (Craig Davis)

Pressure Point: Zito, Maurice show Panthers the way to joyous Stanley Cup win

Watching the newly champion Florida Panthers posing with their kids with the Stanley Cup and beginning a summer fling with the most tradition-rich sports trophy, I was reminded of looking down on this same sheet of ice in 2013.

Nobody was skating. It was preseason. But Lord Stanley’s ornate punch bowl was a focal point of the gathering.

The Panthers were introducing new owner Vinnie Viola, who was making bold promises. Like new team owners always do.

“We are committed to provide the resources to the Florida Panthers necessary to win the Stanley Cup,” Viola vowed.

He concluded by saying, “We’re going to win. Put the word out, we’re going to win.”

Viola makes championship vow a reality

Eleven years later, Viola proved to be a man of his word Monday night after the Panthers somehow protected a one-goal lead over the final period to hold off the resurgent Edmonton Oilers 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The keys were that Viola did provide the financial resources and he ultimately found the right leader when he hired Bill Zito as general manager in 2020.

Never mind that the Conn Smythe Trophy went to Edmonton’s Connor McDavid in a losing effort. That’s a rarity, but the award is for MVP of the entire playoffs. So, well, fine.

The award travesty of this NHL season was that Bill Zito got snubbed again as top GM. Dallas’ Jim Nill got it for the second year in a row. Inexplicably, Zito wasn’t even second in the voting.

What an absolute joke.

In four years, Zito, a first-time GM, reshaped a sad-sack franchise into a champion.

Zito dramatically transformed Panthers into champs

The ballsy trade to acquire Matthew Tkachuk from Calgary for cornerstone Panthers Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in 2022 was the turning point.

But the volume of personnel moves that Zito got right is staggering. Acquiring high-scoring forwards Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart, who scored the goals in the Cup clincher, were among the most important.

Others weren’t as obvious. Such as the waiver claim for defenseman Gustav Forsling, who had the NHL’s best plus-minus rating this season and is signed through 2031-32. Zito hit on trades for Sam Bennett and Brandon Montour, who have been significantly more productive with the Panthers than they were with previous teams.

After the Panthers were blown out of the 2023 Cup Final by Vegas, Zito added a number of role-player types – defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dmitry Kulikov and Niko Mikkola, forwards Evan Rodrigues and Kevin Stenlund, goalie Anthony Stolarz, – who filled remaining needs that led to Monday’s celebration. The trade-deadline additions of veterans Vladimir Tarasenko and Kyle Okposo helped as well.

The other vital move was hiring Paul Maurice as coach after the 2021-22 Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy but got swept in the second round of the playoffs by Tampa Bay.

Maurice instituted a defense-first approach best suited to success in the playoffs. Perhaps more important he was able to bring the right balance of tough love and humor – as he famously said about one outburst, he felt the players “needed some profanity in their life.”

Championship void ends for Maurice, Panthers

Recalling the call he received from Zito about the Panthers’ coaching vacancy, Maurice said he sensed “something different about these guys.”

There was something similar about the Panthers franchise and Maurice’s coaching career before they came together for what culminated in Monday’s ultimate hockey achievement. Both were star-crossed.

Monday’s win means Maurice no longer has to answer to having coached the most games in the NHL without winning the Stanley Cup.

The Panthers spent much of their 30-year history lost in the woods. There was the remarkable Year of the Rat in their third season of existence that began with forward Scott Mellanby killing a rat in the locker room before the home opener and ended in a run to the Cup Final before getting swept by Colorado. Plastic rats rained on the ice after goals and wins that season and it seemed like every other car in South Florida had Panthers flags flapping from the rooftops during the playoffs.

And then nothing. For way too long.

After that 1996 season, star center Stu Barnes was traded for Chris Wells, who flopped, and futility followed. Worse was the trade that sent future Hall-of-Fame goalie Roberto Luongo in his prime to Vancouver for forward Todd Bertuzzi in 2006.

Viola’s ownership had its share of blunders

While a loyal corps of fans remained, the euphoria of 1996 faded and was mostly forgotten. The arena many nights was a dead zone, except around the holidays when visiting Canadians and New Yorkers showed up to cheer when their teams visited. Calls to move the team to Canada persisted.

The effort by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to facilitate Viola purchasing the Panthers probably saved the franchise for South Florida. The previous owner didn’t have the resources to keep the team afloat and needed to bail.

But it wasn’t a smooth ride to success under Viola. The first season they were seventh of eight teams in the Atlantic Division.

Maurice is the eighth coach under Viola, and at times this ownership appeared as clueless as its predecessors. That peaked with the shameful firing of Gerard Gallant on a road trip and ill-fated stint of Tom Rowe as interim coach as well as general manager while Dale Tallon was shoved aside.

Eventually Tallon was restored to command and got the Panthers back on track. But in 10 years Tallon never produced a playoff series win. He did leave a foundation for Zito, including captain Aleksander Barkov and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Zito faces challenge as players wait to get paid

It is said that the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win in sports. Barkov, Bobrovsky, Maurice and the whole sordid history of the Panthers franchise can be cited as evidence.

Somehow Zito, in his fourth year as general manager, put all the pieces in place to get it done.

A case could be made for Bobrovsky for the Conn Smythe, and Zito certainly was the most effective team architect of this season in this league.

But both of them got what they wanted most Monday night. Bob, who figuratively – and at times literally – stood on his head throughout the playoffs, got to hoist the Cup over his head. Zito, who is emotionally driven, wept openly in celebration.

With only $20 million in cap space and 11 unrestricted free agents, Zito faces another big offseason challenge in keeping as much of the team together as possible and finding replacements as needed. Reinhart, who scored 57 goals in the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs, including the Game 7 winner, will be a free agent.

Panthers begin summer fling with Cup

But none of that matters right now. The Panthers began their summer fling with the Cup by taking it to the beach Tuesday morning. A parade is scheduled for Sunday morning along Fort Lauderdale Beach.

There is a fine line between joy and despair in sports. One shudders to think of the long-term impact on the franchise if the Panthers had lost the Cup Final after winning the first three games. They ended up thwarting the McDavid-led Oilers by the slimmest of margins.

Maurice managed to get them back to playing without fear at just the right time.

“At no point did we say, ‘We better win this one or we’re gonna suck forever,’ ” he said.

Instead, plastic rats showered down amid the frenzy on the ice after time expired. They were shoveled aside and could be seen massed together along the boards as players took turns skating with the Cup.

Maurice got to lift Lord Stanley’s unwieldy trophy over his head for the first time after 29 years of coaching. He recounted the experience in an interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt late Monday:

“I closed my eyes and I wanted to feel it. … I’ll never forget the weight of it and how I felt. And then I opened my eyes and all the players were in front of me smiling, and that’s when the profanity came out.”

He wasn’t alone in that. Fourth-line forward Ryan Lomberg blurted out an F-bomb during the celebration while being interviewed by Miami’s Channel 10. It came through on the broadcast.

Surely we can all use some profanity and joy in our lives. So go ahead, Panthers fans, shout it out as loud and often as you want.

F%*K, YEAH!!

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Panthers, for four decades. Follow him on the site formerly known as Twitter @CraigDavisRuns.

‘We’re going to try to drag them back to Alberta’: The Oilers look to play spoiler again on the Panthers Cup dream

SUNRISE —  The Edmonton Oilers were successful in keeping their season alive after winning Game 4 on Saturday.


Still down 3-1 in the series, they have a new goal entering Game 5 in Sunrise — get the Panthers back to Alberta — or drag them there. 


The Oilers fed off the home crowd at Rogers Place on Saturday night, thrashing the Panthers 8-1 as they won their first game of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final. 


“Everytime you’re back in Edmonton it seems to get louder and louder when you didn’t expect it could get any louder,” Oilers forward Connor Brown said on Tuesday. “That’s the goal. We’re going to try to drag them back to Alberta.”


Still facing elimination the rest of the way out, the Oilers have to take it one game at a time as the Panthers will have two opportunities to win the Cup at home if this series does drag out to a Game 7. 


Oilers captain Connor McDavid said the same phrase on Saturday as Connor Brown did, they want to drag the Panthers back to Alberta. 


While Edmonton has looked into their mindset for Tuesday’s elimination game, the Panthers are going to do everything they can to make sure the next bus they take is to a Cup celebration on Las Olas, not to the airport for a flight back to Edmonton. 


The Stanley Cup will be in Amerant Bank Arena on Tuesday night as the Panthers will try again to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history — this time in front of their home crowd. 


“It’s another opportunity right?” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said going into Game 5. “Another brilliant chance, an opportunity to realize our dream. We’re excited and anxious to get it going.”


Florida will need to be better than they were in their last game, but the team has been successful this postseason and controlling their emotions after losses — including blowouts. 


The Panthers are undefeated this playoff run after losing an elimination game (2-0), they are also 4-1 after a loss. 


“Worrying is more important than forgetting,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said when asked about the last game. “We had two other games I think that were very similar to that and both in similar situations. So we have to learn from it. The gift of Game 4 is a brand new experience that really maybe one or two other players have had and coaches… Once that is learned, then the entire ideas come back to form that our team — this is what we’re good at, this is what we do.”


As for what is expected in terms of lineups going into Game 5, the Panthers will be making a change on the fourth line with the reinsertion of Ryan Lomberg.

Lomberg has appeared in five games this postseason but has not seen the ice so far in the Stanley Cup Final. Who he is replacing has not been confirmed, but it is expected that Steven Lorentz will come out of the lineup.


Edmonton’s room was once again more secretive on who they will ice in Game 5.


Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said “you’ll have to wait” when asked about his lineup for Tuesday night’s matchup.

Puck drop for Game 5 will be just after 8 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. MT from Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, FL.

Maurice, Okposo and Ekman-Larsson among Panthers veterans searching for first Stanley Cup

EDMONTON —  The Florida Panthers can make history on Saturday night in Edmonton.


Holding a 3-0 series lead over the Oilers, their next win means they’ll take home the Stanley Cup — the first in the team’s 30 year history.


All but two players on the Panthers are searching for their first Stanley Cup; Vladimir Tarasenko (2019, St. Louis) and Carter Verhaeghe (2020, Tampa) being the only guys with rings on the roster.


While everyone on the team wants it, 17-year NHL veteran Kyle Okposo might be more desperate than others to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. 


Okpsoso, 36, had been the Buffalo Sabres’ captain since 2022-23. In what could possibly be the final year of the NHL veteran’s career, Okposo wanted a chance to play for the Cup — so he requested a trade to Florida at the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline. 


 “It’s been a journey, that’s for sure. Obviously been in the league for parts of 17 seasons now and had a lot of ups and downs, personally and team wise. But over the last few years trying to turn buffalo around and get that organization going in the right direction, It was definitely challenging but extremely rewarding at the same time,” Okposo said of his career. “This year I wanted to make sure that I was going to put myself in a position — no matter what — to play in the playoffs and compete for a Stanley Cup. I wasn’t going to compromise in that goal. It was a difficult decision for me to do, but I felt like Florida was going to give me the best chance to reach the ultimate goal and now I just have to take it one more game at a time.”


Over the course of his career appeared in 1,054 NHL regular season games — but had only seen 24 postseason games — the last being in 2016 with the New York Islanders .


Before joining the Panthers in March, Okposo went eight years between playoff experiences, but the drive was always there for him to get back there and make a run at in. 


“I think it’s something that’s interesting in our league that if you don’t have playoff success a lot of the times that’s looked at as a negative when so much of this league is timing and the teams that you play on through no fault of our own as players sometimes,” Okposo said when asked about his lack of playoff success. “You have to look at the person and you have to look at the type of player that they are and if they’re capable of being part of a team…Sometimes they (players) get labeled as ‘oh we don’t want this guy because they haven’t played in the playoffs’ . Well there’s so many guys that haven’t played in the playoffs that would be absolute dogs in the playoffs and I think that we have a team that has a lot of dogs.”


If the Panthers were to win it all, Okposo would become the 20th player in NHL history to play more than 1,000 regular-season games before winning his first Cup


“For me personally, I’ve just been soaking up everyday and just trying to consume the moment,” Okposo added.


Like Okposo, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is another NHL veteran who has long awaited his chance to play for the Stanley Cup.


The 32-year-old defenseman played in 982 NHL regular-season games — the second most on the Panthers — across his 14 season career. 


A former captain himself with the Arizona Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson went from being at the lowest point in his career after the Vancouver Canucks bought out the remainder of his $19.3M contract — the largest ordinary buyout in the NHL’s salary cap era. 


One day before the one year anniversary of the buyout, Ekman-Larsson will be playing for a chance to lift the Stanley Cup. 


“I’m just super, super happy to be in this situation,” Ekman-Larsson said. “Obviously having a couple rough years in Vancouver — getting bought out– but I think just to be in this position with this organization, this team, there’s so many special guys in that room. I think we’re just trying to take one day at a time, soak it in and have fun with it.”

Okposo and Ekman-Larsson aren’t the only players with plenty of NHL experience on the Panther that are looking for their first Cup. Dmitry Kulikov — a Panthers draft pick in 2009 — and Sergei Bobrovsky both have been in the NHL for over 14 seasons, while Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad have been with the Panthers for the better part of a decade. 


But the man that has been searching for his Cup the longest is their coach, Paul Maurice. 


Maurice, 57, got his first NHL coaching gig in 1995-96 with the now relocated Hartford Whalers (moved to Carolina in 1997). 


The Sault Ste. Marie native has coached the second most games in NHL history with 1,848 and is fourth in wins with 869. His 24 season NHL career is certainly Hall of Fame worthy, but he is still looking for the ultimate prize.


“I need to win one,” Maurice said last week when speaking of his career and his desire to win the Cup. 


With Game 4 just hours away, the Panthers can win the first Cup in their franchises’ history and become the first team to do so in a sweep since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.  


“If you can’t enjoy this morning, what the hell are you doing, what’s the point of this thing?” Maurice said the morning of Game 4. “The feet are flying underneath this table. There hasn’t been a lot of days in here so, we have to keep this in context, right? It’s 11 o’clock in the morning, my brain’s going to shift pretty hard in about four hours, and it won’t be conversations and casualness by any means. But I’ve been selling ‘enjoy your day’ for two years here, probably before that, and I believe it. I’ve had enough of the other days that aren’t good and I’m damn well going to enjoy morning skate on a day like today. I refuse not to be in a good mood. “


Game 4 will be on June 15, 6 p.m. MT, 8 p.m. ET from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.

‘I need to win one’: Paul Maurice wants his Stanley Cup and his best chance is now

After stepping down on his own accord from his position with the Winnipeg Jets in December 2021, Paul Maurice didn’t know if he’d coach again.


24 seasons behind an NHL bench and no Stanley Cups to his name, Maurice’s chance to win the greatest prize in hockey looked to be behind him.

That was until Bill Zito called.


“I had four phenomenal days of fishing — and this is the absolute truth. My phone rings and it’s a number I don’t know so I never answer that,” Maurice said. “ Then I get a text from somebody that says ‘answer your phone’.” 


Maurice obviously picked up his phone. 


“Bill and I get on the phone and it starts there. It starts with just a conversation and it’s not even really about the job, it’s just the interest level I had and I was good — then we start talking hockey and that was it.”


Content may not be the best word to describe it, but Maurice said a few times “he was good”, as he looked back at the half a year he was away from the game.


But something about Florida was right. 


“It’s the connection between two people and you feel it or you don’t — and I was good. I had given all that I thought I had to give, certainly been fortunate in the game and received far more than I gave,” Maurice told the media as he reminisced on his first conversation with Zito. “But there’s just these strange little things that meant Florida was right and it was where I was supposed to be next.”


Zito was able to convince Maurice to step away from his cottage on the lake and make his way over to South Florida. Now nearly two years later they are trying to finish off this historic journey together as the Panthers are set to take the ice in their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.


Maurice, 57, has an extensive and impressive coaching record — one that will make him go down as one of the most recognizable coaching figures in the game’s history.


After starting his NHL career as a youngster back in 1995-96 with the Hartford Whalers, Maurice sits atop most of the all-time coaching records, including Fourth most wins with 869 and second most games coached at 1,848. 


The one thing that’s missing from his potential Hall of Fame career is the biggest achievement in the game — a Stanley Cup. 


The question of legacy was brought up and if Maurice believes you need to win if you want to go down as an all-time great. Unsurprisingly, the ever straightforward Panthers coach was clear in what he believed the answer was for himself.


“I need to win one.”


“That’s the truth, that’s how I feel. I’m 30 years into this thing, I wouldn’t mind winning one — how about that,” Maurice laughed after answering. “When it’s over, because I thought it was… I understand what it feels like to feel like it’s over and you didn’t win. I know coaches that feel the opposite. Maybe it’s a function of I think I carry the losses and that goes back to starting very very young. I’m going to know when this thing’s all over — either how good I got or how good I was. I won’t need somebody else to tell me that or to value my career. I’m not saying I’m going to value it really high, I’m not telling you where I’ll value it. I have a pretty good idea of the job I’ve done when it’s over. Ya, I’d really like to win one man.”


The 26 season NHL veteran said that every coach is different when it comes to if they need a cup or not for legacy. Losing twice in the finals, once back in 2002 with Carolina and then last year with Florida, the good ole Canadian boy from the Sault is looking to hoist Lord Stanley’s prize over his head. 


”Every coach is different. It seems to me as you age you get a different perspective on life and what’s important, and valuable,” he added. “I need to win one. It’s not going to change the section of my life that’s not related to hockey at all.”


Just two years into his tenure, Maurice is already the most successful coach in Florida Panthers history. His 25 postseason wins is 12 more than the man in second place — and he’ll hope that number is at 29 once the summer rolls around. 


When the puck drops just after 8 p.m. ET on Saturday for Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final, both Maurice and the franchise — who entered the league around the same time (Panthers two years prior to Maurice)  — will start the final step of the journey, in hopes of winning their first Stanley Cup.  

‘There’s 27 of you, everybody’s important’: Panthers bonds play big factor in reaching Stanley Cup Final

Before walking out of the room following their second consecutive Eastern Conference Final win, Panthers head coach Paul Maurice left a message for his team


“You’re all f*ing brilliant, I love every one of ya.”. 


The Panthers are set to open the 2024 Stanley Cup Final at home on Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers and they’ll have 13 returnees from the 2023 team that fell short in the Final to Vegas. 


After retooling in the offseason to make a deeper and stronger team, the Panthers have shown they have a special group of players in Sunrise. But it’s not just the on-ice product. 


This year’s Panther team is as close of a group as you’ll see in professional sports. They ride and die together and it has been that way all season.  


“It starts at day one of training camp when Mo (Maurice) sets the standard of how hard things are gonna be,” Steven Lorentz said on when the team started to get close. “It’s not always going to be the most fun, but when you see a group of guys buy in, it doesn’t matter what your background is or where you’re coming from, where you played before. As long as you got that number of guys — whether it’s 20-25 guys — pulling on the same rope, eventually you’ll come together, and you form bonds and friendships that last a lifetime.”


Before Game 5 of the ECF in New York, the Panthers group were their usual selves at morning skate. 


The team was loose; they laughed, cheered and joked around while taking their line rushes. 


They weren’t in an easy situation — tied in the series, on the road at Madison Square Garden. Yet the calmness of the team was backed up by a message that the team has made clear all season.


“We really like each other,” Gustav Forsling said after the Game 5 morning skate. “[We] like to hang out with each other, we care about each other. So I think that goes on the ice too.”

Forsling was right. The bond they have clearly shines on the ice and it has elevated as the playoffs continue. 


Playing on the road isn’t easy, especially in the postseason. But Florida truly hasn’t seen a drop off in their play when they leave Sunrise, if anything, they’ve been even better away from home.. 


Winning six out of eight road games over this playoff run — compared to a 6-3-0 record at home, the Panthers haven’t strayed away from their game when they leave the sunshine state and a lot of that can be relayed back to the team’s closeness. 


Between the chartered flights, team meals and most importantly, the poker games, the guys love being on the road together. 


“One of my favorite things to do is just play poker in the team suite and on the plane. I think about those times being the things that I’ll remember most about my time in the NHL,” said Aaron Ekblad, the second longest tenured Panther. “Especially on runs like this and last year where you’re together so much. Those moments are definitely one’s I’ll never forget.”


What jumped out to me the most and what I believe truly ties this group together is when Niko Mikkola awarded Jonah Gadjovich the game puck following their Game 5 win over the Rangers. 


Gadjovich, who was a fairly consistent face in the lineup when healthy during the regular season, hasn’t appeared in a playoff game to this point. He was away from the team for pretty much the entirety of the Conference Final as his partner was giving birth to twins. On the night that he returned, he was presented the game puck from his teammate,


In Paul Maurice’s nearly minute long post ECF win speech, he told the team there’s two things that he takes away from that part of the journey (the ECF) they are on.

One takeaway was their great third period to clinch their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final berth, the other was when Jonah Gadjovich was given that puck. 


“There’s 27 of you, everybody’s important,” Maurice said to his team after the ECF. “Everybody’s a lead dog, we’re all part of the pact.”


From captain  to the 27th skater that hasn’t touched the ice — everyone in that room is treated the same. 


The Panthers have created something special in Sunrise and this team won’t go down without a fight. 


And if that fight becomes a war when the Stanley Cup Final rolls around later this week, you better believe they are fighting that war together. 

Three Stars from the 2024 Eastern Conference Final

As the Florida Panthers celebrate their Eastern Conference championship and the more important Stanley Cup Final berth, let’s take a step back and appreciate the great series saw.


In the six games of the ECF, three straight went to overtime, five were one-goal games and the road team won three times.


The series was tight, fast, physical and most importantly — highly entertaining. 


Here’s my three stars — from each team — in the 2024 Eastern Conference Final. 

New York Rangers 


3. Vincent Trocheck 


The former Florida Panthers was a scary force to go up against this postseason. 


Trocheck finished the series with six points in six games, playing over 20-plus minutes a night. 


He was noticeable all over the ice, not just in the offensive zone. The centerman was 56.9% in the faceoff circle (70/123) and was great off the puck.


Trocheck finished the postseason with 20 points (8G, 12A) in 16 games. 


2. Alexis Lafreniere 


The first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft had a disappointing run in the 2022-23 postseason, going pointless in seven games. He completely changed the narrative this year. 


Lafreniere was a thorn in the Panthers’ side, scoring four goals of the series — with a two-goal night in Game 3. 


The 22-year-old was flying every time he came through the neutral zone and he scored a few unbelievable, highlight-reel goals because of it.


 Lafreniere is barely old enough to drink, but he sure can show up in the playoffs. 


1. Igor Shesterkin

Shocker, I know. Igor Shesterkin wasn’t just the best Ranger on the ice, he was probably the best player in the series.


The majority of the games were close in the ECF, but don’t get it twisted, Florida heavily outplayed New York. The Panthers outshot the Rangers in all but one game, and dictated the flow of play in the later stages of nearly every game.


The only reason the series went six games is because of Shesterkin’s play. The Russian goaltender did everything he could to will his team throughout the series, but the offensive support just wasn’t enough. 


Shesterkin had a .930 save percentage in the six games against the Panthers — stopping 186 of the 200 shots he faced.


Panthers head coach had a lot of praise for the Rangers goalie, saying he hasn’t “seen a series by a goaltender like that since Jose Theodore in 2002.” 


Goaltending isn’t the reason New York lost, it’s the reason why they weren’t going home earlier. 


Florida Panthers 


3. Anton Lundell 


There’s a few players from the Panthers that are well deserving to have this  spot.Aleksander Barkov had a few big games in the series, Gustav Forsling should be in contention for the Conn Smythe the way he’s been playing and obviously Carter Verhaeghe was very good. 


But, the third star must go to the youngest player on the Panthers’ playing roster — Anton Lundell. 


The 22-year-old had three points in the series,which doesn’t jump out compared to some of his teammates, however his offensive contributions were beyond clutch — possibly series saving. 


He scored the ‘de facto’ game winner in Game 5 at MSG — putting the Panthers up 2-1 in the third, which set up the opportunity for Sam Bennett’s empty net game winning goal./ 

In Game 6, he set up Vladimir Tarasenko’s eventual series clinching goal by blocking a shot at the point, chipping the puck into the Rangers before feeding a cross crease pass through three defenders to hit Tarasenko. 


Within the South Florida media circle, we’ve been calling the young Finn ‘Baby Barkov’, and it’s true.  


“I have absolutely no idea how good he can be,” Paul Maurice said of Lundell after Game 5 in New York. “But we’re going to find out, it’s just going to take a little while.”


He plays a 200-foot game that guys with a decade of NHL experience could only dream of and he’s only in his third season. 


2. Sam Bennett 

NO. 9 has been a wrecking ball all postseason long for the Cats and the Eastern Conference Final was his best showing yet. 


The Panthers missed Sam Bennett when he was out with an apparent hand injury after absorbing friendly fire from Brandon Montour in Game 2 of the first round against Tampa. Once he made his return in the second round against Boston, playoff Sam Bennett was on full display. 


“I started to feel a little bit more like myself as the series went on,” Bennett said of his play after returning from the injury. “It was nice to be able to stickhandle a little better than I was earlier. It feels good to be back to feeling right.”


Bennett, 27, had four goals and six points in the Eastern Conference Final — which is the most points he’s put up in a single playoff series in his career. Bennett scored in every single one of Florida’s wins, including a huge goal to tie Game 4 — with the Panthers trailing 2-1 in the series. He is currently riding a three game goal streak into the Stanley Cup Final.



1. Sergei Bobrovsky 


It was only right to put Bobrovsky first on this list. 


We spoke about how good Igor Shesterkin was in the Rangers net, but Sergei Bobrovsky also put forth an elite performance between the pipes for the Panthers.


Florida prides itself on being a defense first team, which is why they were able to keep Bobrovsky’s workload to under 30 shots for all but one game of the series. 


While he didn’t see as many pucks as Shesterkin, his play in the ECF shouldn’t be diminished because of that. 


The 35-year-old gave up two or fewer goals in all but one of the six games against the Rangers. In 17 games this postseason, he’s done that 13 times.


It’s remarkable. He’s been an absolute stud all year and especially in the biggest games,” Sam Bennett said of Bobrovsky. “That seems to be when he’s playing his best hockey, which is incredible.”


Florida’s netminder gave up just 12 goals on 151 shots in the series — posting a very impressive .921 save percentage and also picking up a shutout. 


Great goaltending can keep you in a series you probably shouldn’t be in, which was the case for the Rangers. While the Panthers were the force carrying most of the play in the Conference Finals, Bobrovsky was there to make the timely saves in these close games. 


He also gave up just one power play goal on 15 attempts to a Rangers team that entered the series with a 31.4% success rate on the power play.

Aleksander Barkov carries the Prince of Wales Trophy after the Florida Panthers earned a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Redemption is near, Panthers look to keep Prince of Wales Trophy in Sunrise

Teams that lose in the Stanley Cup Final usually don’t get another chance for a long time, if ever.


But for the Florida Panthers, their second chance could come now.


Last year, Florida watched in heartbreak as the Vegas Golden Knights hoisted the Stanley Cup in front of them.


After a year of fighting like hell, the Panthers are back to where they were last season — playing for a spot in the final.


After defeating the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the ECF on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the Panthers have put themselves in a position to win the Eastern Conference at home and get back to the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight year. 


‘REDemption’ is the playoff slogan for the current Panthers team and they can give themselves a chance to do that on Saturday night in Sunrise. 


“There’s no reason to be nervous,” Panthers forward Sam Bennett said. “We’ve been in a lot of situations like this, so it’s just business as usual, play our game and you on’t really think about all the outside, all the other stuff that’s going on… We got to win a hockey game, so that’s our focus.”


The opportunity for redemption is rare in today’s NHL. If the Panthers were to finish the job and win the Prince of Wales Trophy, they’d become the first team since the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins to make the Stanley Cup Final after losing the previous season.


Pittsburgh ended up winning the Cup that year. 


Before speaking of the final, let’s circle back to May 24, 2023 — Game 4 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Final.


The Panthers held a 3-0 lead over the Carolina Hurricanes and had a chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996, on home ice in Sunrise.


With the game tied in the dying seconds of regulation, Panthers star forward Matthew Tkachuk scored one of the most iconic goals in franchise history — beating Frederik Andersen with just 4.3 seconds remaining in the game to send his team to the Cup final.


While the Panthers Cinderella run would come to an end in just five games against the Knights, it helped shape the current team — which is far stronger on paper than the previous —  for what they need to do to finish the job.


“The summer was very very fast. I don’t know if sadness is the right word but we know how hard it is to get there and the missed opportunity,” said Panthers head coach Paul Maurice, who went 21 years between Cup Final appearances. “It was also somewhat peaceful because I don’t think there was anything left of our team.”


Maurice said the sadness of the loss was gone once he began prepping videos for training camp. The Panthers only used their playoff tape for the camp videos. That’s when Maurice said he “got in a good mood.”


“You start to remember the plays, the effort — all that. But the people,” Maurice said with a smile. “How to drive the net? Well that’s the Radko Gudas clip… I appreciated the year. All of my sense of loss was gone probably about the middle of to late August last year when I started going through the video of the season.”


The Panthers run last year was special. They learned how to win against the best, but more importantly, they learned how to take a loss and move on.  


Heading into Saturday’s potential series clincher, the Panthers say they won’t stray away from their game. And unlike the position they were in last year against Carolina, the series is 3-2, not 3-0.


“You got to treat it like a regular game. Especially with how tight the series is,” Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour said. “This is a team (the Rangers) that’s on the brink of their season being finished so we expect their best. It’s going to be a nice, loud building for us and you’re going to get our best as well so it’s going to be a good game.


Their chance for retribution is just around the corner, all they have to do is take it — and they can on Saturday night in Sunrise.

‘We are excited about the challenge’: Panthers confident ahead of Game 4 vs. Rangers

FORT LAUDERDALE — The message in the Panthers room ahead of Game 4 is consistent with what they’ve done all postseason  — play their game.


Sunday afternoon’s loss was no doubt a gut-wrenching one for the Panthers, as they fell 2-1 in the series after losing consecutive games in overtime. 


After overcoming a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime in Game 3, the Panthers looked the more dominant force. 


Despite holding an overwhelming 108-43 shot attempts advantage over the Rangers on Sunday, the final bounce fell in favor of the road team and now the Panthers trail in a series for the first time since Game 1 of the second round. 


The Game 3 defeat was not a usual one for the Panthers. The chances created discrepancy was huge, but it was a rare night where more than two goals found the back of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net. 


“I don’t think that’s the story in the game. Seven of our last eight we’ve given up two [goals] or less. That’s who we are, that’s what we do,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said on Tuesday. “We put up a lot of shot attempts, good for us, that was an addition. Gave up five goals, so we don’t like that, but we gave up 44 shot attempts, so we didn’t abandon the game defensively.”


A Game 4 loss won’t be the end of Florida’s season, but it will put them in a less than ideal situation, facing elimination on Thursday night in New York. 


Knowing what’s at stake on Tuesday, the Panthers were their normal, loose selves at morning skate.


“I think we all know the situation we are in and I think we are excited about it,” said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov. “We are excited about the challenge. We know our game plan, we know what we need to do, we just need to go out and execute.”


At various points throughout the season, Maurice has pointed out how he doesn’t have to say much to his guys throughout the game to get them going. 


His team is keeping the status quo and it appears they once again won’t not need much encouragement for the task at hand.


“We had the normal meetings (today) and we got a plan for this game, that’s about it,” Niko Mikkola said.


While nothing has been confirmed, the Panthers may once again change up their fourth line for Game 4. At Tuesday’s morning skate, Kyle Okposo and Steven Lorentz replaced Ryan Lomberg and Nick Cousins during line rushes. 

Maurice said “it may be one, it might be both,” when speaking about the possibility of Okposo and Lorentz coming into the lineup. 


“Some of its health, some of it is we think they look different. There’s a different kind of offensive zone thing that both guys do,” Maurice said about Lorentz and Okposo. “It is not a tipping point and it’s not the thing to put your team over the edge, the energy, that excitement. Sometimes you put the new players in and they get pretty fired up and give you a good boost.”


Based off line rushes in warmups, this is how the Panthers could line up tonight. 














Puck drop is 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 28, from Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise.

Bobrovsky, Tkachuk perfect for Panthers in Game 1

Under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, the Florida Panthers walked into the Rangers house and gave them their best display of Panthers hockey.


The Rangers have been phenomenal at MSG all season, posting a 30-11-0 record in the regular season and a 4-1-0 home playoff record in the first two rounds.


Entering the series, Florida was well aware of what they needed to put forth against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. 


On Wednesday night, they did just that — it was a near perfect road game. 


The Panthers became the first team to shut out the Rangers this postseason, defeating the boys in blue 3-0.


From the very first drop of the puck, the Panthers took their brand of hockey and shoved it in the Rangers face. 


Florida is a team that thrives off hard work down low. They pushed the Rangers with an extremely aggressive forecheck — a specialty for Paul Maurice’s teams. Constant cycling, puck movement up and down the zone, Florida came out for the 8:18 puck drop like a bull that was waiting to leave the pen.


If there was one player that played like a bull in the series opener, it was Matthew Tkachuk. 


Heading into the series, the Panthers star forward was ready to show up in the Big Apple.


“We’re the only game on the nights we are playing. There’s nobody else on so all eyes will be on us,” Tkachuk said ahead of Game 1. “That just adds on to the whole New York City, MSG, playing the number one team in the league. It all adds up right now, this is a very exciting time of year to begin with no matter who you’re playing. And to be playing the New York Rangers, it just adds so much to it. This is a huge stage for us, for our team.”


Tkachuk said the stage was huge for the team and he owned it.


On his first shift of the game, he leveled former Panther Vincent Trocheck behind the net — setting the tone for what was to ensue. Later in the first period, Tkachuk would catch Trocheck again, this time steamrolling the Rangers forward at open ice in what was easily the biggest hit of the game. 


While his physicality was prevalent from the jump, the 26-year-old displayed his offensive prowess to the New York faithful, sniping the first goal of the series past Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin with 3:34 left in the first. 


“I don’t put any pressure on myself to score, produce offense. I guess that’s part of my game but at the end of the day it’s not about myself here,” Tkachuk answered when asked if he puts pressure on himself going into the ECF.  “There’s a way bigger goal ahead. Guys on our team that didn’t score tonight were some of our best players… There’s so much buy-in from everybody that nobody cares who’s producing.”


“At the end of the day we’re here for wins, that’s it.”


Finishing the night with three hits, two points, a +3 and the game winning goal, Tkachuk was the best player on the ice that wasn’t named Sergei Bobrovsky. In his five career Eastern Conference Final games, Tkachuk has scored or assisted on all of the game-winning goals. He has five goals and 16 points in 12 games this postseason. 


“I thought tonight (Matthew) righted our team back to the simple parts of our game,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said of Tkachuk’s impact. “You always want to do more. These are the best players in the world and they’re capable of doing more, but sometimes the less is just way better and it’s also quite a bit smarter, and I thought he led in that department.”


Earlier I said Tkachuk was the best player not named Bobrovsky and rightfully so. Florida’s No.1 netminder was a brick wall in Game 1.


Conceding just one goal on 23 shots in Florida’s Game 6 series clincher against the Boston Bruins, Bobrovsky commanded the crease once again in the Eastern Conference Final.


After Tkachuk gave Florida a one goal lead late in the first, the majority of the game remained 1-0 until Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere tipped in Carter Verhaeghe’s pass into his own goal with 3:48 left in regulation.   


On Wednesday in New York City, 35-year-old Bobrovsky looked alot like he did in last year’s Eastern Conference Final against Carolina — where he gave up just six goals and had a .966 save % in Florida’s series sweep over the Hurricanes. 


Bobrovsky stopped all 23 shots he faced — four coming on New York’s dangerous powerplay — in what was his second shutout in 82 career Stanley Cup Playoff games. His first playoff shutout came exactly a year ago to the date, on May 22, 2023 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against Carolina. 


“He’s been unbelievable all playoffs. I can’t say enough about him,” Verhaeghe said of Bobrovsky. “He works so hard and to have him back there we have so much confidence… Obviously when we need him he always comes up big.”


One of the biggest story lines entering the series was the goaltending matchup between Bobrovsky and Shesterkin. Undoubtedly two of the league’s premier goalies, the fellow countrymen were neck and neck in the first two rounds, posting very similar numbers.


Florida got two past Shesterkin (they actually got three but one was rightfully overturned due to goaltender interference), before Sam Bennett sealed the game with an empty net goal. 


The Panthers have been great this playoff run in keeping pucks away from Bobrovsky’s net, allowing just 24.1 shots per game. In the second period, Florida kept New York shotless for a stretch of 14:23. 


Bobrovsky’s workload wasn’t intense, but the Rangers had times where they controlled the flow of the game in Florida’s zone. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a goalie on top of his game. 


“I think you have to be a veteran goalie to do what he did tonight. Sit for a while, make huge saves,” Maurice said of Bobrovsky after Game 1. “You’re playing the President’s Trophy winner, the best team in the National Hockey League. They’re getting to get theirs (chances) and he was that good.”


Wednesday was a classic Florida Panthers playoff game. Fast paced, low scoring, great goaltending and some heroics from the big boys. 


The Panthers are now 5-1-0 on the road this post season and will be happy to have already stolen one in New York. The road warriors will probably need to do it again this round if they want to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.