SUNRISE — From the moment they put on their first pair of skates, young hockey players dream of winning the Stanley Cup. Whether they pretend to be Bobby Orr in 1970 or Patrick Kane in 2010, scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal has probably played out in more than a few hockey players’ backyard fantasies.
Playing in the NHL is an opportunity presented to only the most talented of hockey players. Yet, the chance to play for the Stanley Cup may never come for many of the NHLers.
The Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights are in a position this year that 30 other teams wanted to be in — the Stanley Cup Final.
This June, both organizations will get a second chance to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Vegas, the second youngest NHL franchise, made their only SCF appearance in their inaugural 2017-2018 season, where they lost to Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals. Florida is back on the big stage for the first time since 1996 — where they were swept by a Patrick Roy led Colorado Avalanche team.
Vegas has a few of their original Knights remaining from their 2016 Cup Final team, in addition to a few Stanley Cup Champions like Alex Pietrangelo, Phil Kessel, Alec Martinez and Jonathan Quick in the room.
Florida’s roster doesn’t have as much experience in the Finals, with only three players having a Stanley Cup to their name; Eric Staal (2006), Patric Hornqvist (2016,2017) and Carter Verhaeghe (2020). Marc Staal is the only other Panther to have played in a Stanley Cup Final.
With most of the Panthers not having a finals appearance under their belt, their veteran leader behind the bench is also without a Stanley Cup to his name.
In his 25 season NHL career, Panthers head coach Paul Maurice has coached over 1800 games between the regular season and playoffs. Maurice is sixth all-time in regular season wins by a head coach, and fourth all-time in games coached — yet in his two and a half decade career, he has only made one appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
The team and Maurice knows how big the opportunity at hand is — and Florida’s few cup champions have reminded them of that.
Maurice said the champs have stepped up in team meetings, speaking to the rest of the roster about what they are about to experience.
“Those guys have great voices,” Maurice said. “There’s so many things that until you’re there you haven’t experienced it. It’s so much better if it’s a player telling them, so much more impactful to them.”
Panthers defenseman Josh Mahura got his first taste of playoff hockey this year in Florida. The early season waiver pick up is now just a few days away from skating in the Stanley Cup Final. Mahura said he wants to “soak” in the experience.
“It’s pretty crazy from the start of the year until now,” Mahura said. “Honestly it would have been tough to believe you if you would’ve said that [I’d be playing in the Stanley Cup Final].
Despite never playing in the Cup Final, Panthers forward Nick Cousins got close in 2020 during his time with Vegas, making it to the Western Conference Finals.
“There’s also guys who have won a Stanley Cup too, played a lot more games than me,” Cousins said. “But whenever guys here are looking to get some intel, I’m always there.”
Cousins and the rest of the team is ready to get this series rolling after an extended break. Florida will go 10 days between games by the time they hit the ice Saturday for Game 1 in Vegas.
“We just want to make sure we keep going here, the first three rounds were really good for us,” Cousins added. “Our team’s clicking right now, we just got to make sure that we pick up where we left off.”
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