Sunrise, Fla. (AP) – He knocked on Boston. He knocked out Toronto. He knocked out Carolina.
Jamie Compone was not dismissed despite the best efforts of Paul Morris.
Let’s say: Kompany is Maurice’s assistant coach for Florida, in his first year as the Panthers’ head coach. Kompon made a key adjustment on Florida’s power play earlier in these playoffs, and it paid off when Matthew Tkachuk hit a power-play with 4.9 seconds remaining on Wednesday night to give Florida a 4-3 win and a four-game sweep. Play scored. Storm in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Everyone celebrates going to the Stanley Cup Finals in different ways. Tkachuk dropped to his knees and slumped on the ice, his arms outstretched. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky threw his arms skyward. Maurice moved to the other end of the Florida bench and punched Compone in the ribs; It was a celebration, a unique one, but a celebration nonetheless.
Maurice said, “I wanted to make sure he felt as much as I did.”
Let this be proof: Panthers these days are ready for any fight.
Vegas or Dallas — maybe Vegas, since it’s 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals — the Panthers await a Stanley Cup-deciding series starting next week. This would be Florida’s second time in the title round, its first on hockey’s biggest stage since 1996 when Colorado defeated it.
“I still think a lot of people don’t believe,” Tkachuk said. “I mean, people in this area support us and believe in us — but there’s not a lot of people out there that still do. And we know we played some pretty good teams in these playoffs so far.” And we know the next team is going to be incredible too. More points, more wins, more whatever. Trying to prove people wrong again, we’ll be crushed.
Florida has been trying to prove people wrong for nearly a quarter of a century. The thing is, it’s rarely successful. As the numbers prove, it took forever to become an Eastern Conference champion.
Wednesday’s game was the 2,017th for the Panthers since the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals. Alexander Barkov played 706 of them, more than anyone else. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad played in 660. Roberto Luongo – now part of the Panthers front office braintrust – stopped 16,298 shots for the Panthers in that span. They used 412 players, had 282 different goal-scorers, went through 37 goalkeepers, changed coaches 16 times, changed arena names five times, and even changed arenas once.
And every year ended the same way: disappointment. There were varying levels of suffering – 25 seasons between playoff series victories, 11 consecutive seasons without any postseason appearances, 10 different years of finishing last or next-to-last in a division. There was the occasional playoff appearance or division title thrown in, mainly only providing a one-year period of false hope before falling down again.
Even without it – for now, anyway – the ultimate silverware that hockey players chase from the moment they take those first awkwardly awkward steps onto the ice in skates with hands down and with a stick that’s probably too big. This is the Golden Age of Panthers Hockey.
“We have people we believe in on this team,” owner Vincent Viola said earlier in the playoffs, and he’s not wrong.
The Panthers made the qualifying round in a pandemic-disrupted season ending in 2020, then the first round of the playoffs in 2021, the second round and the Presidents Trophy in 2022, and now have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“Waiting, working to get here, to get this opportunity,” Ekblad said. “Obviously, it’s been a long time coming. For us, for them, it’s huge, exciting.
Making it even better, perhaps, is this: Some people may have seen this run coming.
Florida finished the regular season with 92 points, the fewest of the 16 playoff teams – and one less point than Calgary, a team that did not even make the West playoffs. The Panthers were to play Boston in the first round; In all the Bruins posted the best regular season in NHL history. They were to play Toronto in Round 2; The Maple Leafs tied for fourth most points in the league. They were to play Carolina in the third round; The Hurricanes had the second best record in the NHL.
Boston squandered a 3–1 lead and went on to lose in seven. Toronto lasted five games. Carolina lost all four. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 contests against basically the best possible teams they could face. Only two other teams in NHL history have had three of the league’s top four teams finish in the same postseason; They were the Montreal in 1969 and the New York Islanders in 1980.
They both won the cup that season.
Florida will try to join them.
“We know what we have out there, we know how to play, the right way to play, (and) we know what makes us successful,” Tkachuk said. “To be in it with the boys and see the faith and the peace for us is something really special.”
And with that, he hopes another knockout punch awaits him.
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