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Lord Stanley Returns to the Beach: A Breakdown of the Florida Panthers' Historic Win


Courtesy of Jim Rassol / USA Today Sports

Hockey Season has officially come to a close with the end of the Stanley Cup Finals. Concluding a spectacular season, the Florida Panthers won the first Stanley Cup in their franchise’s 31-year history. After losing in the final round last year, the Cats’ victory this year is sweet. 


However, this win was not easy for Florida to pull off. The Edmonton Oilers, who were the first Canadian team to make the final round since 2021, were on the brink of having a historic win themselves and gave it every last shot to try and win big. Here is a brief look at what led up to the historic win, from the beginning.


Third Time's the Charm

Courtesy of AP Photo / Abbie Parr

The Florida Panthers were founded in 1993 as a part of the NHL’s expansion to 26 teams at the time. Unlike other expansion teams, the Cats were immediately competitive. During their third season in 1996, they made it to their first Stanley Cup Final, where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche. Though the Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs multiple times since 1996, they failed to make it to the finals until 2023. 


In 2023, they came into the playoffs as the underdogs and had an incredible run to the final round. But their momentum was stopped short when they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights. Determined to bounce back this year, the Panthers were ready to put it all on the line. 


This past year, Florida won the Presidents Trophy for the most wins  in the NHL during the regular season, automatically qualifying them for the Playoffs. They defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games during round one, the Boston Bruins in six games in round two, and the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Panthers were back in the finals for the third time and ready to attack.


No Easy Way Out

Courtesy of Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

The Panthers may have made it to the finals again, but it was not going to be an easy series. They were up against the Edmonton Oilers, who were ranked second in the Pacific Division at the end of the regular season. With talented players like Connor McDavid, Evan Bouchard, Leon Draisaitl, and Zach Hyman, the Oilers were bound to be a tough team to beat. They put up a strong effort in pursuit of hockey’s ultimate prize.

 

With a Canadian team having not won the Stanley Cup in over 30 years, fans were very excited to have the Oilers in the finals. At first, their steady momentum was quickly halted when the Panthers took a 3-0 series lead at the beginning of the final round.


Just as Panthers fans were expecting a sweep and Oilers fans were losing hope, the Oilers came back in a brilliant fashion and won the next three games 8-1, 5-3, and 5-1 respectively. With a dramatic change in events, the seventh and final game in the series would determine whether the Oilers would bring the Cup back to Canada after a 30-year hiatus or whether the Panthers would win their first Cup.


Game 7

Courtesy of Alie Skowronski / Miami Herald

Historically, if the Stanley Cup Finals last seven games, the seventh game has a low score because it is where the winner takes all. Both teams’ defenses are playing at the top of their game. Game seven in this year’s series was no different. Panthers left winger Carter Verhaeghe opened up scoring for the game, tipping left winger Evan Rodrigues’ shot past Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner. However, the Oilers retaliated quickly when right winger Mattias Janmark scored on a breakaway against the Panthers’ Sergei Bobrovsky just over two minutes later. 


After an eventful early first period, the second period was a fight between both teams to score goals. As the minutes ticked on with Skinner and Bobrovsky gloving most shots, it looked like it was going to be a scoreless second period. Then, with just under five minutes left in the second period, Panthers right winger Sam Reinhart fired a shot past Skinner to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. 


During the third period, both teams continued to go back and forth, with Edmonton trying to score and Florida trying to maintain their lead. Bobrovsky’s years of skill and experience combined with a solid group of defensemen–who would even jump in the net themselves at times–for the Panthers to hold off the Oilers. The seconds ticked down as the puck was against the boards, and after a grueling series, the Panthers were finally Stanley Cup Champions. 


Courtesy of CHL

Most would question how a hockey team could thrive in South Florida, where it is hot and sunny with no trace of snow or ice to be found. Yet, the Florida Panthers were able to overcome challenges, work their way to the top, and win the ultimate prize. 


“It’s pretty freakin’ cool,” said defenseman Aaron Ekblad in an interview with ESPN. “It wasn’t easy those first few years. There was a lot of learning and growing…The fact that we’re at this point now where the expectation is to make the playoffs, and the expectation is to challenge for a championship, that's a really cool thing. I'm so happy to have been through it all with this franchise."


And Ekblad is right. It is cool to watch how the Panthers have shattered hockey stereotypes, showing that a team from the sandy beaches of south Florida can excel at a winter sport and become the best team in the NHL. It will be exciting to see how the Florida Panthers build their franchise from here.




Edited by Emma Habel


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