The Florida Panthers were written off. Down three games to a lowly one to the Boston Bruins, the most dominant regular-season team of all time, needing two wins in their barn to even get out of the first round. Since that 6-2 loss at home to the B’s, the Panthers are 11-1. Three straight over the Bruins, four of five from the trendy-pick Maple Leafs, and an Eastern Conference Finals sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes, the first postseason sweep in Florida’s franchise history. And now, the disappointing President’s Cup Trophy winners from a season ago, who weren’t deserving of advancing past the Capitals in last year’s first round, only to get swept by Tampa Bay in the second, have gone from irrelevant, to overlooked to undeniable.
Matthew Tkachuk was clutch
All four games against Carolina were decided by one goal, with all three Matthew Tkachuk game-winners coming with less than five seconds left in regulation, or later, in the case of both games in Raleigh. Winning on the road in the postseason is critical and incredibly tough. The Panthers have won their last six away from Sunrise, which might be more impressive than the 11-1 record they’ve put up since being left for roadkill by the NHL community at large. Does the upset feel any better for Boston fans that the Panthers have been nearly invincible since the extremely premature exit?
It’s been nearly a bi-nightly occurrence since the lights went out in Beantown. Let’s not forget how many tapes the Bruins had the Panthers on the ropes, with two knockdowns, looking for that third punch to connect that sends Florida to the canvas to end the fight. Game 5 went to overtime, with a Tkachuk winner. The Panthers trailed twice in the third period of Game 6 and scored the game’s final three goals to force a Game 7. Florida trailed in the third period again in the win-or-hand-in-your-skates contest, only to have Brandon Montour find the back of the net with one minute left in the Panthers’ chase for the Stanley Cup.
The Panthers no longer an afterthought
In two seasons, the Florida Panthers have completely changed their perception in the NHL. Growing up a fan of the Capitals competing in the old Southeast Division, it was a cakewalk to plenty of division titles. It was even easier to be the most relevant team of the quintet. Florida and Atlanta were yawns, with the latter being so sleep-deprived it moved to another country, with the home of the Hawks and Falcons losing a professional hockey franchise for a second time. Carolina and Tampa Bay were upstarts, building brands, not having one established yet. And as the Capitals missed the playoffs for only the second time since 2007, it was time to take a look at the NHL’s landscape as a whole. No one leveraged the opportunity with longtime Eastern Conference powerhouses Washington and Pittsburgh out of the postseason more than Florida. Now the Panthers just have to worry about the likely incoming challenge from Vegas, who didn’t exist until 21 years after Florida’s last Stanley Cup Finals appearance.