Kristen Shilton, reporterka ESPN NHLMay 24, 2023, 11:03 PM ET
- Kristen Shilton is an NHL national reporter for ESPN.
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TheFlorida panthersface the Stanley Cup Finals.
Just like we all predicted.
In fact, Florida's trajectory this season resembles the plot of a classic Disney movie, a tale of courageous misfits fueled by confidence, slaying dragons and overcoming all odds on their way to unexpected victory. And all the main characters are made to make that happen.
Anti-heroMateusz Tkaczukhe was a polarizing, productive face in the Panthers playoffs.
Calm, modestSergei Bobrovskyis experiencing a career renaissance as Florida's internet backbone.
Rising starBrandon Montouradrove the swagger to the blue line.
Franchise VeteranAlexander BarkovIAaron Oakleafare committed to helping Florida (finally) reach its potential.
And player rolesCartera Verhaeghe'aDoDitto BennettaDoSama Reinhartacompleted the Panthers lineup with a strong contribution.
Panthers caused a lot of drama. It will be fascinating – and fun to watch them play in the upcoming cup final. Let's take a look at exactly what Florida did so well to become the NHL's post-season favourite.
(More than) happy to be here
Florida's greatest superpower may come as a surprise.
One step further, the Panthers were at the bottom of the Atlantic Division for about two-thirds of the regular season. However, CEO Bill Zito stopped at the end of the trade and expressed confidence in the already assembled group. It was a bold – and seemingly questionable – decision.
A few months later, Zito is a finalist for the GM of the Year award. Apparently his gamble paid off. Florida went out of their way to overtake Pittsburgh in the 11th hour to secure the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
your reward? First round matchup withBoston Bruinsihaving the best regular season in league history. Florida was unwavering and won the series 4-3. Then it cameMaple leaves from Toronto, and Florida defeated them 4-1. When the Panthers faced Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals, they seemed completely unstoppable and sent the Hurricanes home with a series victory.
The Panthers were not burdened by outside pressure. Hell, they weren't betting favorites in any game until they took a 2-0 lead against Carolina in the East Final. If Florida thought it was disrespectful, she never showed it. Pantherama is too good to care about.
“Why play in this situation if you can't have fun?” Tkachuk wondered before Game 3 against the Hurricanes. "There is no panic in our game. Coming to the rink every day is great fun.”
Every band wants to "ignore the noise" and really silence their critics. Florida did it. Panthers are not burdened with history. You're special. This ability to live and embrace the present should continue to drive Florida.
Growing up by Mateusz Tkaczuk
If you missed it when Matthew Tkachuk was in Calgary, the striker was great because some saw him as nothing more than a nuisance.
It may be a pest, but it is actually multifaceted.
Tkachuka's refusal to sign a long-term contract with the Flames last summer facilitated his move to Florida in JulyJonathana Huberdeau, the Panthers' top scorer for the 2021–22 season. and four top defendersMacKenziego Weegara. risky? Maybe. But the move paid off for the Panthers.
Tkachuk led Florida's offensive during a heated regular season with 40 goals and 109 points (seventh in the NHL). He was instrumental in luring the Panthers into the race for the final spot in the playoffs, with a breakaway at the end of the season, while also imparting an us against the world mentality.
And he didn't hurt Florida by taking nasty penalties or messing up the pot; Tkachuk was too busy putting the pucks into the net.
He did this throughout the postseason, and no goal was greater than his game-winner with 4.9 seconds left in Game 4, which defeated Carolina to send the Panthers to the Bowl Final. Tkachuk scored nine goals and 21 points in 16 games, including overtime winners in games 1 and 2 against the Hurricanes. And of course, Tkachuk had to score a penalty or two over time, but he also dominated the attack at times, providing the necessary big plays. This is what Florida needed most from a rival for the Hart Trophy.
Bobrowski is a soldier
He was not Florida's first choice as a post-season starter. But Sergei Bobrovsky didn't let that stop him from becoming the team's finisher.
When the Panthers' $10 million online midfielder fell ill in March, he was a backupAlex Lyonhe took a place in goal and had an incredible 6-1-1 streak that helped Florida secure a coveted postseason berth. Of course, coach Paul Maurice picked Lyon to start the Panthers series against Boston.
Putnik scored 1–1 in the third leg after conceding five goals on 30 shots, and was replaced by Bobrowski late in the third period. Maurice returned to Bobrovsky for Game 4, a loss to the Panthers, but still stuck with the veteran.
Bobrovsky then secured three straight wins, ending a winning streak with Boston. He continued to develop in the second round, keeping Toronto's much-vaunted offensive to just two goals per game. Bobrovsky grew up to be a true conference finals virtuoso, recalling his season in Columbus as a two-time Vezin Trophy winner when he led Karolina's scorers to open frustration after a 1-0 draw in Game 3.Jesperi KotkaniemiDid someone break a stick against the locker room wall?)
Now, Bobrovsky has an impressive 11-2 post-season record, .935 saving percentage and a 2.21 clean sheet average in his first Cup Final. There is no doubt that Bobrowski's performance will be significant for Florida.
Montour, the little eater
Decisive for the Panthers' prospects was career best Brandon Montour, who scored 16 goals and 73 points in the regular season.
However, the defensive lineman caught everyone's attention when he scored four overtime goals in Florida's 57-56 win over Carolina in Game 1. It's no small feat that highlights the importance of Montour's performances throughout the season - and his overall growth.
Montour had previously made a solid contribution to depth, recording his best result (37) last year. It was hard to predict that he would have a gigantic season in 2022/23.
Montour was able to maintain his success throughout the Panthers season, stabilizing the backcourt with an overnight dose of big minutes (averaging nearly 28 per game) and contributing enough offense (six goals and nine points) to make the Florida backcourt a real threat.
As for the Panthers' defenders, their willingness to block shots in the series against Karolina was undoubtedly crucial. In the first three games alone, the Florida defense had over 30 blocked shots, several of which came in the last minutes of a 1–0 third-round victory, putting the Hurricanes in a difficult position.
They stand up for the Panthers
Alexander Barkov spent his entire ten-year career in Florida. Aaron Ekblad was with the Panthers for all nine NHL seasons.
They had success in the regular season (including winning the President's Cup last season), but that didn't translate into long-term post-season success.
Barkov and Ekblad provided Florida with veteran knowledge and perhaps even perspective. They've been through a lot with this franchise. They answered questions and thought about the future. This is her time to enjoy the booty.
These Panthers aren't one dimensional and don't rely too much on any one aspect of their game. Florida is rolling deep.
The Ekblad was the mainstay of the blue line, providing that consistency and the same kind of stabilization that the Montour offers. Barkov has four goals and 14 points in his first 15 playoff games. There are also people who don't make the headlines.
Carter Verhaeghe finishes the regular season with 42 goals and scored a well-balanced goal in the playoffs, winning three games. Sam Reinhart hit two game winners. Sam Bennett has consistently proven his role as a master of set-up.
And the list is long.
Florida defeated three teams that put too much emphasis on their so-called "best" players. Panthers don't need such labels. Florida functions more like an orchestra, with each instrument given a chance to shine.
This is how Panthers make beautiful music.