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The Florida Panthers Lost A Chance at Greatness. And Know It

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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 Cup Final on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

In the hours following their loss in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday night, Aaron Ekblad said he and his teammates did not go out on the famed Strip to drown their sorrows or have one final night out on the road.

He says they all went back to the team hotel and hung out together, playing cards and having a few beers amongst themselves.

Avoiding their loss, in Las Vegas of all places, would not be easy.

The biggest reminder that the Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup and the Florida Panthers did not came on social media.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Ekblad said. “Instagram sucks. All you see is them lifting the Cup. That hurts for sure. It has been a tough couple of days, for sure. But it is what it is. The sun comes up.”

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Throughout this playoff run, a number of Panthers talked about the journey, to appreciate the moment and to realize these opportunities do not come around all the time.

For many members of the Panthers, this was their first trip this deep into the playoffs.

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Others had had a crack at hockey immortality before and know exactly what it feels like to get close to you dream and see someone else live it out.

While the Golden Knights held their championship parade down Las Vegas Boulevard on Saturday night, the Panthers were still lamenting the loss.

“In a couple of days, or weeks or months you’ll start to realize what actually happened,” Sasha Barkov said on Thursday morning, “and how far we got and how close we got to the ultimate goal that we have in this organization.

“Usually when a season ends or the playoffs end, you think ‘OK, it’s over and now it’s time to rest.’ This is a different feeling. We can build on this. We can get better and learn from this and get better.”

Although Florida lost the Final series in 5 games and, looking back at things, it was not that particularly close, the Panthers know this was an opportunity they hope to get again — but know it is not guaranteed.

Florida coach Paul Maurice had his first shot at winning the Stanley Cup in 2002 with the Carolina Hurricanes, that team losing to the Detroit Red Wings in 5.

It took Maurice 22 years to get back to the Final and he knows how hard it is to get back.

Yes, these Panthers are built for long-term success. One of the reasons why general manager Bill Zito traded for Matthew Tkachuk over the summer was to extend Florida’s championship window.

But that does not mean the Panthers will make it back anytime soon.

They very well could, sure, but it may not happen.

This very well could have been the best shot the Panthers have to taking that Cup for their own, to have their names engraved onto it.

Losing Game 5 was painful for the Panthers, yes, but mostly because of what they all knew was on the line.

That Cup is what everyone plays for, the reason teams do what they do each and every day. If your team is not a contender and you are in rebuilding mode, the Stanley Cup is the goal in which you build your team to win.

If you are a contender, you try and do everything within your power to go for it.

The Panthers went for it and fell short. There is no shame in that game.

But they all know it is an opportunity they may never see again.

And that is what hurts the most.

“Every year is different. You start from scratch, you start from zero,’’ Maurice said. “I did fall in love with those guys. I wanted it so bad for them. It didn’t happen but it is still raw and painful.’’

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