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2023 Stanley Cup Final

The Florida Panthers Bandwagon Is Open for Stanley Cup Final

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The Florida Panthers celebrate Matthew Tkachuk’s game-winning goal with 4.9 seconds left in Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night as fans along the glass get in on the fun. // Photo by Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — About 15 minutes before Pantherland opened at FLA Live Arena on Saturday morning, a line of Florida Panthers fans milled outside in the sunshine ready to plunk down their money for some fresh Stanley Cup Final gear.

When you have been waiting 27 years for your team to be back in the Cup Final, what’s another few minutes?

”This is a hockey market,’’ coach Paul Maurice said in December. “They’re into it.”

Cup Fever has again taken over South Florida as it did back in 1996 when rubber rats were as hard to find here as a winter coat and team banners hung from light poles on I-95 through two counties all the way to the Miami Arena exit in Overtown.

While Maurice said he does not get out much very much during the playoffs save for filling up his SUV or taking out the garbage cans, he hears from friends and family who are enjoying this run just as much as Kathy from Miramar or Rick from Doral is.

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And with the Miami Heat headed to Boston for Game 7 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals on Monday night, there has been something to fixate on just about every night for the past two months.

Even the celebrities are flocking to Sunrise to enjoy the show from Mike McDaniel, Udonis Haslem, Jimmy Butler, Dan Marino, Jaromir Jagr, Brooks Koepka and Jeff Connie all seemingly having a blast with this team.

Saturday night, Matthew Tkachuk joined the NBA on TNT crew at Miami-Dade Arena for Game 6 to talk to his new admirers.

Not bad for a hockey team in the tropics.

“I hope they feel that,” Maurice said. “The game, up north, is passed down. You cheer from 4-years-old because your dad and grandfather are. You learn that passion early. In a southern market, you have to be exposed to it.

“You’re building fans. But there will be a 5, a 35 and a 55-year-old — generations of a family becoming instant fans. It’s all shared memories and that is what fandom is. It gets moms and daughters too, right? You need events like this.”

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A Matthew Tkachuk banner hangs on the facade of the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise on Saturday afternoon. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers have been building up to this point for the past couple of years.

Like their expansion years, the Panthers have teased us a little before going all-in on the postseason.

In the franchise’s first two seasons, it missed the playoffs by a single point.

Then came the first-round series against Boston and it was on.

This Florida team has made the postseason in each of the past four years — if you count the Covid bubble in 2020 — and has gone one round higher each time.

The Stanley Cup Final Schedule is Set

In 2020, Florida lost to the Islanders in the qualifying round; in 2021, Florida lost in 6 to the Lightning.

Last year, the Panthers won their first opening-round series since 1996 when they beat the Capitals only to get swept by the Lightning in the conference semifinals.

This season, Florida not only got to the Eastern Conference finals but won it.

South Florida is a big event town and the Panthers, right now, are a big event.

Even the players are digging the new gear.

”It’s cool for sure,” Ryan Lomberg said, glancing down at his new hoodie. “You have to stay even keel though because it is missing a word on here. It would be pretty cool to get that one.”

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An electronic message board outside the FLA Live Arena on Panther Parkway salutes the Eastern Conference champions. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

Now, the Panthers are finally the talk of the town.

Although they are sharing the spotlight with the Heat, the Panthers are making inroads within their community.

Televisions ratings have been through the roof with every bar in South Florida is trying to lure fans in with unofficial watch parties after many rarely put their games on.

An arena which once put sponsored tarps on seats in the higher reaches of the upper deck — and even curtained off the end zones — are now lamenting the loss of seating which the NHL is taking to create an auxiliary press box and extra camera locations.

The bandwagon to the Panthers is open.

And there is still plenty of room to hop on.

The Panthers are not begging anyone to come aboard, but their hand is extended to pull those willing to join in on the fun.

Winning can make fans for life.

The Panthers made fans in 1996 — from Key West to the northern reaches of Canada — who remain loyal to the team today.

Even Charles Barkley has become a fan. Regardless of whether he cannot properly say ‘Bobrovsky,’ the Panthers are happy to have him.

Everyone is welcome.

“I worked for Carolina twice but my middle kid had a San Jose Sharks sweater for years,” Maurice said. “They turn on the TV and they see something exciting. It’s that time when they get connected to the game.

“There’s a Barkov fan out there, a Bobrovsky fan — regardless of how you pronounce his last name. That’s exposure right? People make connections to players and we have a Cat on our jersey, a Panther so we have that going for us.

“We’re going to pull some people in. When we travel from now on, we’re going to see them there.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

THE 2023 STANLEY CUP FINAL
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
OR DALLAS STARS
GAME 1
  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas OR AmericanAirlines Center, Dallas
  • TV: TNT
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Series Schedule — Game 1: Saturday at Dallas/Vegas, 8 (TNT); Game 2: Monday June 5 at DAL/VGK, 8 (TNT); Game 3: Thursday June 8 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Saturday June 10 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Tuesday June 13 at DAL/VGK, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Friday June 16 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Monday June 19 at DAL/VGK, 8 (TNT). * – If Necessary
  • 2022-23 Regular Season Series Vs. Vegas (Even 1-1): @Vegas 4, Florida 2 (Jan. 12); @Florida 2, Vegas 1 (March 7)
  • All-time Regular Season Series: vs. Vegas Golden Knights lead 6-3-1
  • 2022-23 Regular Season Series vs. Dallas (Stars Won 2-0):Dallas 6, @Florida 4 (Nov. 17); @Dallas 5, Florida 1 (Jan. 8)
  • All-time Regular Season Series: vs. Dallas Florida leads 24-21-2, 3 ties
  • Postseason History: First meeting vs. both Vegas or Dallas

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