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Cup Final Rematch May Boost the Struggling Florida Panthers



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Members of the Florida Panthers stand by during the Stanley Cup presentation after the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Panthers 9-3 in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals to win the Stanley Cup on June 13. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

FORT LAUDERDALE — As much as the Florida Panthers said they wanted to move on from their Stanley Cup Final loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the 9-3 drubbing in Game 5 which ended their season remains fresh in their mind.

No matter how much they said they hated talking about last year and wanted to focus on this year, it may very much be a motivating factor today when those Golden Knights return to Sunrise for the first of two meetings between the two.

At least in the regular season.

This could be a game which helps the Panthers get through the struggles they are going through now.

“It’s been a while, but we obviously remember how it ended up,” captain Sasha Barkov said.

“We are going to be ready. We are not happy with the way we have been playing the past few games but we have to get back to our game.”

The Panthers are in need of a reminder of how their game looked at its best during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

And a date with the Golden Knights could do just that for a team that has strayed away from its identity lately.

They are 1-4-0 in their past five games with just two goals for in their past three losses.

After all, that was the first thing Matthew Tkachuk brought up when asked about the matchup.

“We aren’t playing great hockey right now, losing four of the last five, so it doesn’t matter who we play, we want to come out and play as good as we can and as hard as we can,” he said.

“Win or lose, we have to get back to playing a hard game, a physical game, a fast game, and we are not scoring at the rate we should be — myself individually and as a team — for the last little bit. We just have to go out there and play as hard as we can for 60-plus minutes, and looking back to last year and parts of this year, when we are successful, we are playing right in your face and we are finishing every check and we have gotten away from that a little bit.”

But as much as Tkachuk said his focus has 100 percent been on this year, he let it slip that the team may have had Dec. 23 marked on their calendar.

Florida Panthers Mourn the End of a Fantastic, Magical Season

Even with their holiday plans sitting in the back of their minds as the NHL prepares for its holiday break from the 24th to the 26th.

“On top of it all, this is a team that ruined our summer, so it will be very hard for guys not to get up,” Tkachuk said.

“That will be almost impossible. We are all going to be playing as fast and as physical as we can and there is some bad blood there, so we are excited.”

Tkachuk, in particular, remembers how tough it was when he couldn’t play to his full potential during the series.

He fractured his sternum in Game 3 and tried to give it his all after returning to the game and scoring the game-tying goal en route to a crucial victory.

But that was just about all he could give.

Tkachuk was limited by the injury in Game 4 and had to watch from the press box as Vegas defeated his team for the Stanley Cup.

Matthew Tkachuk One of Many Florida Panthers Injured in Playoffs

”The mental part of that killed him,” coach Paul Maurice told TNT’s Jackie Redmond minutes after the Game 5 loss.

“One of the things about him is that he is an incredibly bright young man so he could assess his own game. The hope was that if we could get him five days of rest, there was a chance for Game 7.

“He scored the game-tying goal after fracturing the bone, net-front, then you could see him in Game 4 trying to find a way to play with a broken bone. He had three of the best chances to score but clearly, he also knew the other four guys on the ice needed a guy who could do other things so he accepted it and he understood it.”

Tkachuk is one of a few Panthers with similar sentiments.

Aaron Ekblad was not 100 percent himself offensively when playing through a torn oblique during the Stanley Cup Final.

Eetu Luostarinen missed the series entirely with a broken tibia he suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.

Brandon Montour, Sam Bennett and a few others played through injuries of their own.

While none of them ever used their injuries as an excuse for the loss, a chance to take them on while fully healthy surely rings in their minds.

“It sucked not being able to play in the series and watch the guys play in it,” Luostarinen said. “But yeah, I guess that gives me a little boost.”



  • When: Saturday, 3 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 96.5 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series — At Florida: Saturday. At Vegas: Jan. 4.
  • Last Regular Season: Even 1-1
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Golden Knights lead 6-3-1
  • Postseason History — 2023 Stanley Cup Final: Vegas d. Florida 4-1
  • Up Next for the Florida Panthers: Wednesday at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.

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