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2024 Stanley Cup Final

Not Finished: Florida Panthers Hungry to Complete Redemption Tour

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Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov celebrates the Eastern Conference championship on the ice at Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday night in Sunrise. Florida opens the 2024 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers are headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year, but the vibe surrounding the team this time around is much different.

Last year, the Panthers were happy to be there after limping into the playoffs as the eighth seed and completing one upset after another to get there.

This year?

The mood was not as celebratory.

As the late, great Kobe Bryant said: “What is there to be happy about? Job’s not finished.”

That comes with the maturity of being there and knowing what it took to get to that point.

And remembering the pain of coming up short.

Florida opens the 2024 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night in Sunrise.

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Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett, one may remember, were a big part of the Battle of Alberta during their days with the Calgary Flames and get another shot at the Oilers in this Cup Final.

“It took a lot of motivation, dedication and commitment,” Tkachuk said of Florida getting back to the championship.

“The right pieces were added and we had one mindset to do whatever we can to get back to it. I thought the guys that were here last year did an unbelievable job coming back for the start of training camp with this on their mind and we’re not done yet. We’re very happy with the way the playoffs have gone for us, winning the first three, but it’s a different feeling this year for sure.”

The Panthers started working their tails off to start their redemption tour the moment they exited the handshake line in Vegas last year.

Multiple players returned to camp leaner and faster and the rest of the team came back much more fit to handle Paul Maurice’s grueling training camp.

“Experience helps you with a plan, that’s for sure,” Maurice said. “They’re just on a personality basis a more serious group.

“We weren’t even-keeled on last year’s team but we needed that last year. We needed them to not be even-keeled and jacked, wired and celebratory. It was how we did get there, it’s personality-based. They came back to camp with an eye on where they wanted to go and we’ve seen that all year.”

Coming back to camp like that after disappointment in the Stanley Cup Final is a hard thing to do.

Florida is the first team in 15 years to make the Stanley Cup Final for two years in a row after losing the first.

The last time that happened, the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins avenged an ‘08 Cup Final defeat to the Detroit Red Wings and won their first of three Stanley Cups with Sidney Crosby.

You have to go back 40 years to find the next squad to have achieved that feat — the 1984 Edmonton Oilers who returned to the Cup Final to unseat the New York Islanders dynasty which beat them the previous year and took the Cup four straight years from 1980-83.

It takes a special group to be able to pull that off and the Panthers knew that going into the offseason.

And they put in the work to get there.

“It was a short offseason, but it’s one that we’re willing to get used to, right?” Tkachuk said “There’s nothing better than playing hockey in June.

“You don’t have much time to prepare yourself, especially with guys playing through injuries, but it’s just the memories you create this time of year are the ones you carry with you forever and the ones that stick with you throughout the whole season. So, if that’s the motivation that you got to have in the summer to do your stuff, go above and beyond and work as hard as you can, that’s what pushes guys.

“Not winning last year obviously pushed all the returning guys to be even better at the start of training camp. It doesn’t matter how we got here, but we’re here and I feel we’re better off this year. And it starts with guys like [Sasha Barkov] and [Gus Forsling] pushing the envelope and everybody just following.”

They came back and perfected the play style that got them to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Panthers calmed it down, becoming a stingier team defensively and relentless on the forecheck, wearing down their opponent and taking advantage of their mistakes.

General manager Bill Zito brought in Kevin StenlundNiko Mikkola and Dmitry Kulikov to make the penalty kill one of his team’s biggest strengths after it proved to be its biggest weakness last season.

It showed after the Panthers held the Rangers to just one power play goal on 15 attempts in the Eastern Conference final.

From the top down, everyone knew what they needed to do to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.

But now?

The job is not finished.

“We have a bunch of different guys, but I think there’s a little bit different of a belief this year,” Bennett said.

“Last year, we believed, but we were also happy to be there. This year, it’s kind of all business. We have one goal in mind and we’re not going to be satisfied until we accomplish that.”

For More FHN Coverage of the Florida Panthers:

STANLEY CUP FINAL
EDMONTON OILERS VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS 
GAME 1
  • 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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