Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

More ‘even-keeled’ and ‘relaxed’ Florida Panthers ready for another shot at a Stanley Cup

The Florida Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk (19) and Aleksander Barkov (16) celebrate after teammates after their team’s win against the New York Rangers in Game 6 during the Eastern Conference Finals at the Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday in Sunrise, Florida.  (Tribune News Service)
By Jordan McPherson Tribune News Service

MIAMI – While the roster contains many of the same players, there is a noticeable difference in the Florida Panthers team that is in contention for a Stanley Cup this year compared to the team that got to this point a season ago.

As the Panthers prepare for their Stanley Cup Final series with the Edmonton Oilers, which begins 5 p.m. Saturday at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida, the team has a more businesslike approach than it did 12 months ago.

The path to getting to this point and the understanding of what’s at stake plays into that.

Last season, the Panthers barely squeaked into the playoffs in coach Paul Maurice’s first season before going on a wild run that including beating the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in seven games in Round 1, a five-game series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 2 and a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final before falling in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Panthers were essentially playing with house money as they advanced through each round and pulled off upset after upset.

“Last year,” Maurice said, “I thought every series was an event and an achievement for how far we traveled.”

This year? The expectation was to get to this point and build off the ride from 2023. Florida won the Atlantic Division and went on to win series against the Tampa Bay Lightning (five games), Bruins (six games) and New York Rangers (six games) to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.

“They’re just, on a personality basis, a bit more serious,” Maurice said. “They’re more even-keeled than last year’s team, but we needed that last year. We needed them not to be even-keeled and be wired and jacked and celebratory. That was how we did get there.”

The players who have been part of both runs can attest to that assessment.

“We just have a buy-in from everybody,” star winger Matthew Tkachuk said. “We’re a deep team. We’re a very committed team and very relaxed team. Last year, we were kind of just riding that high and rode it all the way to the finals, whereas this year it’s a chilled approach. Guys are coming to the rink working as hard as they can every day and expecting that from the guy next to him.”

“These are different teams, but with our experience, we learned our way, our style, what makes us great, what makes us win hockey games,” defenseman Brandon Montour said. “We’re at the point where we’re feeling good. … Guys are excited to start this again.”