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2024 Stanley Cup Final

Florida Panthers Remember the Sting of Losing Stanley Cup Final



Florida panthers
Members of the Florida Panthers watch the Stanley Cup presentation after the Vegas Golden Knights won Game 5 against the Panthers 9-3 on June 13, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Brandon Montour said he could not bear to watch the Vegas Golden Knights celebrate with the Stanley Cup following their lopsided win over the Florida Panthers in Game 5 last year.

Other players, as documented in the Associated Press photo above, shows the pain in the Panthers as, just feet away, the Golden Knights got their party going with hockey’s biggest prize.

“I did not even look over there,’’ Montour said. “Couldn’t do it. You work your whole life for that memory, to have something to cherish with your teammates and your friends, your families. I did not want to see someone else do it, especially having it done so close to us. The only time I have seen it is on the commercials.”

The Panthers had come very far last year, slipping into the playoffs in the final week as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference before winning three straight elimination games to upset the Boston Bruins in Round 1.

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Yet that night in Vegas, the Panthers realized how close they were to winning their ultimate goal — yet how far away it was from their grasp.

“I know how focused they all were when camp opened,’’ coach Paul Maurice said. “I have seen that before, and there was an exhaustion to get that far, to give that much, and that is what you’re left with. I do think it affected them. As it should.

“They did not leave that rink dejected because they failed. But they lost, right? I think that’s why we were able to come into training camp and be a good team out of the gate. There was no shame in not getting it done last year. We gave everything we had, and there was nothing left. So, let’s try to do it again.’’

And, they have.

The Panthers open this year’s Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night at 8 against the Edmonton Oilers with clear eyes on the prize.

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch was asked if Florida’s experience in playing for the Cup last season benefited them and, he made a joke about the Buffalo Bills losing the Super Bowl four straight years.

The Panthers, perhaps unlike the Bills, got better after last year’s run to the Final.

Unlike last year, they are also healthier.

“I think we learned so much from that series,’’ Carter Verhaeghe said. “Hey, they were the better team and deserved it more than us. That sucks living through it, but later, you realize they were better. We had a chance but we need to be better. We were too worried about running around in that series instead of focusing on winning. It sucks being that close and losing. There is no good feeling coming out of that. We were so close and it got away from us.’’

They also remember what it was like to lose the thing they have been chasing all of their adult lives.

When the Panthers played the Golden Knights earlier this season, the Panthers came correct.

Florida would have liked for a rematch in this Final — but it did not work out that way.

“Losing is a lasting memory,’’ Aaron Ekblad said. “It fuels you through the offseason, fuels the coaching staff, fuels [Bill Zito] to go and get different players and pieces. It fueled all of us to be better from the top to the bottom of the organization. We were three wins away. It was within reach and it slipped away.”

Last year, after beating the Carolina Hurricanes to advance to the Final, the Panthers enjoyed that moment as they should.

This year, the celebration was noticeably muted.

The Panthers have bigger goals in mind than just getting there.

“Winning the conference final is a beautiful thing, it was really fun,’’ Ekblad continued, “but a lot of us left it that night. We’re here for business. I think experience is important, so important. It has helped us down this path thus far.’’

After Game 5 in Vegas, as the party raged on in the capital of party towns, the Panthers gathered at their hotel and let loose a bit.

Matthew Tkachuk, per people who were there, matter of factly stated over and over that the Panthers would get back and play for that Cup again.

When Florida beat the Rangers in Game 6 last Saturday night, he shouted ‘I told you we’d be back.’

And they are.

The Panthers go into this Final with their eyes wide open and focused on that grand prize.

“You don’t want that feeling,’’ Montour said. “If you understand sports, and understand the competitive nature of it, you understand there is a winner and a loser. But that feeling sucks. It is something we do not want to feel again.’’

For More FHN Coverage of the Florida Panthers:

  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • National TV: ABC
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Series Schedule, All Games 8 p.m. on ABC — Game 1:Edmonton at Florida, Saturday; Game 2: Edmonton at Florida, Monday June 10; Game 3: Florida at Edmonton, Thursday June 13; Game 4: Florida at Edmonton, Saturday June 15; Game 5*: Edmonton at Florida, Tuesday June 18; Game 6*: Florida at Edmonton, Friday June 21; Game 7*: Edmonton at Florida, Monday June 24. (*) – If Necessary
  • How They Got Here — Florida: d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2, New York Rangers 4-2; Edmonton: d. Los Angeles 4-1, Vancouver 4-3, Dallas 4-2.
  • This Season (Florida Won 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 5, Oilers 3 (Nov. 20). At Edmonton: Panthers 5, Oilers 2 (Dec. 17).
  • Last Season: Edmonton Won 2-0
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Oilers lead 23-16-0, 3 ties
  • Postseason History: First Meeting

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