Panthers win first Stanley Cup
by Lucas Aykroyd|25 JUN 2024
Finland’s Aleksander Barkov captained the Florida Panthers to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Capping off one of the most dramatic Stanley Cup finals in NHL history, the Florida Panthers edged the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 in Monday’s Game Seven. It’s the first Cup ever for the Panthers.
Previously, Florida was swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 finals and fell to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games last year. This 2024 home-ice victory was sweet redemption for head coach Paul Maurice, captain Aleksander Barkov, and a Cats squad that nearly let it all slip away.
Florida’s win ended Edmonton’s bid to bounce back from a 3-0 series deficit, which would have made the Oilers the first and only club since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Cup that way. It’s total heartbreak for the northern Alberta capital.
Sam Reinhart scored the go-ahead goal on the rush at 15:11 of the second period. Carter Verhaege opened the scoring for Florida with his team-leading 11th goal in the first period and also assisted on Reinhart’s winner.
“It’s incredible to see how hard everyone worked for this moment,” said Barkov, who became the first Finnish captain and fifth European captain ever to hoist the Cup.. “And now, there are no more games tomorrow. It’s unbelievable for sure.”
For Edmonton, Mattias Janmark replied on a breakaway just over two minutes after Verhaege’s goal. The Oilers, who outshot Florida 24-21, mounted a desperate late push to no avail.
By various metrics, Edmonton arguably outplayed the Panthers in five out of seven games. Unfortunately for captain Connor McDavid and his teammates, only the scoreboard counts.
The Panthers were jacked-up to help Maurice end his Stanley Cup drought. The 57-year-old Canadian has coached 26 NHL seasons and 1,848 games. That’s second only to Scotty Bowman, the all-time Cups leader among coaches with nine.
“[Maurice has] been around so long and had so much success, but obviously never to this point,” said Reinhart, who led the Panthers with a career-high 57 goals this year. “We’re thrilled, we’re ecstatic to do it for him.”
Florida had a hard road against elite foes, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games and the Boston Bruins and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers in six games apiece. Yet the high-octane Oilers under coach Kris Knoblauch undoubtedly posed the stiffest test.
McDavid won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, leading all scorers with a whopping 42 points (8+34=42 in 25 games).
The ultra-swift 27-year-old Canadian centre, a five-time NHL scoring champion, cemented his reputation as hockey’s best attacker. McDavid broke Oilers legend Wayne Gretzky’s single-playoff assists record (31, 1988), long thought untouchable. And only “The Great One” (47 points, 1985; 43 points, 1988) and Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins (44 points, 1991) have ever recorded more points in one post-season.
McDavid is the only skater besides Reggie Leach of the Philadelphia Flyers (1976) to capture the Conn Smythe in a losing cause. His fireworks overshadowed his teammates’ offensive exploits.
Evan Bouchard (6+26=32) recorded the third-most points in a playoff year by a blueliner after Paul Coffey (37 points, 1985) and Brian Leetch (34 points, 1994). Zach Hyman’s playoff-leading 16 goals were tied for fifth-most in one post-season. And assistant captain Leon Draisaitl, although limited to three assists in the finals, totalled a stellar 32 points.
However, the Oilers would gladly trade those individual numbers for a taste of Cup champagne. Edmonton’s title drought dating back to 1990 continues. And Oil fans are left to wonder if McDavid and Draisaitl will get another shot at the Cup to seal their joint legacy, with the German superstar potentially hitting unrestricted free agency in 2025.
There were some noteworthy storylines for international hockey fans as well.
Including Barkov, fellow forwards Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen and defender Niko Mikkola, Florida iced four Finnish skaters in this Cup run, the highest number ever. The previous record was three for Edmonton in 1987 and 1990 (Jari Kurri, Reijo Ruotsalainen, Esa Tikkanen).
No new members joined the Triple Gold Club, featuring players who have won an Olympic gold medal, an IIHF World Championship gold medal, and a Stanley Cup. Notoriously, Triple Gold Club member Corey Perry (2007 SC, 2010  & 2014, OG 2016) lost his fourth Cup final in the last five years. The 39-year-old forward also came up short with the Dallas Stars in 2020, the Montreal Canadiens in 2021, and the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2022.
Florida’s victory gives several Panthers a potential shot at cracking the Triple Gold Club at the 2026 Olympics in Milan. That includes Luostarinen and Mikkola (2019 WC), as well as the likes of Canada’s Aaron Ekblad (2015 WC) and Sam Reinhart (2016 WC) and Sweden’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson (2017 & 2018 WC).
For now, the Panthers will simply soak up their biggest professional feat. “This is the best moment of my life so far,” said Ekblad, a veteran defender drafted #1 overall by Florida in 2014.
“Shout-out to my fans in Calgary,” quipped a grinning Matthew Tkachuk, who was traded by the Flames to Florida in 2022. “You know I couldn’t let Edmonton win!”
2024 is a particularly sweet year for Barkov. Not only did he win the Cup and his second Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward, but Tappara – his original Liiga club, of which he is a part-owner – celebrated its third straight Finnish crown.
And for the state of Florida, this is a golden age for hockey. It’s the fifth straight year that a Florida team has appeared in the Cup finals. Next year, the Panthers will aim to match their Tampa rivals by winning back-to-back titles as the Lightning did in 2020 and 2021.