The Florida Panthers went on an incredible run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, defying the odds from the start of the postseason all the way to an Eastern Conference championship.
What the Panthers accomplished this season — and in the manner they did so — will be remembered for a long time to come.
But Tuesday night was not one of reflection for the Panthers but disappointment in the way it ended.
This was not time to talk about upsetting the Boston Bruins or taking out the Toronto Maple Leafs or even sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes.
There will be plenty of time for that.
“It’s definitely tough, right now, to look back at anything,” captain Sasha Barkov said. “It has been amazing, this group of guys gave it all out there every night, every single night. It’s hard right now, but for sure, this is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Whether it’s a practice or game, I will remember this group. Hell of a journey.”
During what ended up being a 9-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, one could see the Panthers were out of gas.
They ended that game like a car limping into the corner gas station.
Vegas ended up hoisting the Stanley Cup in front of their home fans as the Panthers packed up and prepared to head home.
They heard the cheers and the chants all night and, since they spent the night in Las Vegas, had to hear it all morning as well.
The Panthers will see remnants of the celebration — and those still celebrating — when they head to their hotel lobby and head for the airport.
”We want to be that group that celebrates,” Barkov said. “I want to say we’ll be back here and we’ll lift the Cup. We will get back to work in a few weeks with this same group and it’ll be fun again.”
With the loss, it is time to part ways at least for some of them.
No team comes back completely intact from one year to the next although the bulk of this Florida team is signed for the next few years.
There will be additions in the coming weeks and subtractions as well. Such is life in professional sports.
For now, this team will fly home and meet at least once more at the arena before their end of the season party — one that came two months later than usual.
It was a fun two months.
”We can appreciate it now because what we went through was miraculous and the clutch way this team played was pretty incredible,” Aaron Ekblad said. “There is a lot to look at positively, a lot to learn from this series. We just didn’t get the job done here.
“There’s no stopping now. This is a bump in the road and it is going to sting. It stings now. But we’ll find a way to come back next year and be stronger because of it. How could you not be, after going through what we did?”
Said Sergei Bobrovsky: “Tough way to end the season, tough loss for us, but I am proud of these guys for what we did in these playoffs and what we built in these playoffs. It was a privilege for me to play with them and fight with them.”
There is no denying this is a special group and they said they wanted to do something special together.
Well, they did.
No one can ever take these past two months — and the battle to just make the playoffs over the preceding months — away from them.
“You get cynical when you get old,” Paul Maurice said. “The game is wonderful, it’s beautiful. But the best part about sports, the things you want your kids to learn when you put them in sports, all the great character stories were in that room from training camp on.
”We’re casual with our words sometimes, but that group of guys love each other. Every day. The way they treat each other completely destroyed any cynicism I may have had about pro sports.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK