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2023 Stanley Cup Final

BattleCats: Florida Panthers Tested Going Into Stanley Cup Final



Panthers cup
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen and Florida captain Sasha Barkov greet each other in the handshake line following the Panthers’ 4-3 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers were back at FLA Live Arena on Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after they left it in a haze of celebration following their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes which put them in the Stanley Cup Final.

Late Wednesday night, players wore newly printed Eastern Conference championship t-shirts and caps.

Thursday, they had Stanley Cup Final gear waiting for them.

With Florida not officially knowing who it would play for the Stanley Cup next week what with Vegas visiting Dallas in Game 4 of the west finals later that night, Thursday was about coming in, getting some workouts in and keeping to their routine.

What the Panthers do know is the 16 playoff games have prepared them for whatever is coming next.

So, too, did the games before the postseason.

“There are so many little events where a guy has a major impact on a series but won’t be viewed as a driving force,” coach Paul Maurice said. “But if he doesn’t do it, it’s over. It strings together. But we have been doing this for so darned long, the environment just presents itself.

“Go back to the Washington game: It was Matthew again, but we had to win that game. There was a lot of pressure on us and they had a bunch of injuries but they played really hard. This environment has made it a comfortable place for us.”

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In the previous two series against Toronto and Carolina, only one game — a 4-2 win against the Maple Leafs in Game 1 — was decided by more than a single goal.

The Panthers did not panic when they were trailing, found a way when a game was tied and held on when having the lead.

On Wednesday night, Florida found itself in a 3-3 game after Jesper Fast scored with 3:22 remaining in Game 4.

It appeared this would be the third overtime game of the series before Matthew Tkachuk scored with 4.9 seconds left sending the Panthers to their first Cup Final since 1996.

”We just come to play,’’ Eric Staal said. “We love coming to the rink, being around each other and competing. We have a team that cares a lot for one another and it doesn’t matter who it is against, we just love to play. I think that is why it has been so much fun being part of this with them. Whomever we have next, we’ll be ready to play.”

Part of the reason the Panthers have played this so cool may be the way they got into the playoffs in the first place.

After losing their fourth consecutive game in Ottawa on March 27, the Panthers knew they could not lose too many more or their season would be over.

Florida ended up winning its next six games and going 6-0-1 to clinch a spot in the playoffs when Pittsburgh was upset at home by the tanking Blackhawks.

The next time the Panthers’ season was on the line came in Game 5 in Boston — and they pulled out a 4-3 overtime win and have been rolling ever since.

Tkachuk, by the way, got the game-winning goal that night in Boston and now has three overtime winners this postseason.

He also won three games against Carolina with goals on the final shot.

“We have kind of been in this situation, this scenario since January with where we were at,” Staal said. “We felt every game we went into we had to win. We did not win them all, but we tried to get ourselves off the mat as quickly as we could to try to win the next one.

“It is simple, but we went game to game to game for a very long time. That is kind of where we have been for the past couple of months and we are comfortable in that and confident in that. Wherever it is, whatever the situation is, we’re ready to play.”



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