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How did the Panthers reach the Stanley Cup Final?

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Florida defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday. The Panthers’ only previous trip to the Finals was in 1996, when the Colorado Avalanche swept them in four games.

Florida will face either the Dallas Stars or the Vegas Golden Knights in the Final. Vegas leads the Western Conference Finals 3-1 after Dallas avoided elimination with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 4 on Thursday.

The Panthers’ journey to this point was impressive, if not surprising. In fact, this almost never happened.

In the final week of the regular season, the Panthers’ playoff hopes waned and it might have been hurt a bit had the Pittsburgh Penguins beaten the Chicago Blackhawks in Pittsburgh on April 11.

[RELATED: Complete Hurricanes vs. Panthers series coverage]

Instead, the Penguins lost 5-2 to the Blackhawks and the Panthers earned their final playoff spot in the East, one point ahead of the Penguins and Buffalo Sabers.

When the Boston Bruins took a 3-1 lead in the first round of the Eastern Conference series against the Panthers, it was to be expected. Florida fell into the playoffs, but Boston set NHL records for most wins (65) and points (135) in a season.

Then everything changed.

Since that time, the Panthers have won 11 of their 12 games and eliminated teams that finished first (Bruins), second (Hurricanes, 113 points) and fourth (Maple Leafs, 111 points) in the NHL standings. They’ve won their last three games against Boston. Toronto was beaten in five games in the second round. Carolina then swept to represent the East in the Cup final.

Here are some highlights for the Panthers on the road to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The best moment: Should be Matthew TkachukSeries winner against the Hurricanes with 4.9 seconds left in the third period of Game 4 at FLA Live Arena. Over time, the forward showed poise and patience as he waited for the Carolina keeper Frederick Andersen Get down before the roller spins into the grate.

The turning point: The clock seemed to strike midnight on the Cinderella Panthers when they trailed the Bruins 3-2 late in Game 7 of the first round on April 30. Against a defensively stingy team like Boston, the odds were against Florida. Enter the defender Brandon MontourThat tied the game with 1:00 left in the third to extend the Panthers season into overtime, on offense. Carter Verhaghe He won it at 8:35 in the morning. Without Montour’s goal, there might have been no overtime, and the Bruins would certainly advance and possibly talk about their return to the Finals. We are not, because of Montour.

Video: Montour, Verhaag hold the Panthers to win Game 7 in overtime

Best moves: The Panthers’ off-kilter moves pay huge dividends, particularly the hiring of coach Paul Morris and the trade for Tkachuk. Morris resigned as coach of the Winnipeg Jets on December 17, 2021, and had no ambition to come off the bench until general manager Bill Zito convinced him otherwise in a phone conversation in June. Then, on July 22, 2022, the Panthers acquired Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames in a forward deal. Jonathan HuberdeauDefense Mackenzie scaleforward possibility Cole Schendt and a conditional first-round selection in the 2025 NHL Draft. Ten months later, these two helped bring the Panthers to the Finals.

The best undone results: Morris would have been on the bench Sergei Bobrovsky After the goaltender allowed five goals in a 6-2 loss to the Bruins in Game Four of the First Round. There was a precedent. Alexander Lyons He started the last eight games of the regular season, when the Panthers went 6-1-1, and the first three games of the first round. But give Morris credit for sticking to Bobrovsky. This loss to the Bruins now looks like a blip off the radar; 942 save percentage in 12 games since then. Sometimes the best goalkeeper change is the change you don’t make.

Signature wins (regular season): The Panthers ended their four-game losing streak with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Maple Leafs on March 29. He started a 6-1-1 streak to finish the season and put them in the right frame of mind for the playoffs. straight ahead Sam Reinhart He scored the tying goal at 19:00 from third base, then Montour won it at 1:41 of overtime. If they didn’t come back to win this game, we probably wouldn’t have been talking (or writing) about Florida in the Cup Final.

Signature Victory (PLAYOFFS): The Panthers hadn’t had their backs against the wall for the past two months, they’d just hang on to the thing. Time and time again, Florida’s attitude has been absolutely front and center. This was nowhere more evident than in their 3-2 quadruple overtime victory over the Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Conference Finals, the sixth longest game in NHL history. Just when it looked like the game was heading into the fifth overtime, Tkachuk scored the game-winning goal 13 seconds later. The Panthers are 6-0 in overtime games this postseason, and no win was more indicative of their resilience than this one.

Video: FLA @ CAR, GM1: Tkachuk shoots the fourth-place winner

best player: It will be either Tkachuk or Bobrovsky without a doubt. And with my apologies to the stars and golden knights, these two should be favorites for the Conn Smith Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs. Tkachuk ranks second among all playoff players with 21 points (nine goals and 12 assists). His sense of drama was ironic: He scored the overtime goal that eliminated the Bruins in Game 7, then scored three goals in the game against the Hurricanes. This is the definition of a difference maker. Same goes for Bobrovsky, 11-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a 0.935 save percentage in 14 playoff games. Florida excelled in 12 of the 16 playoff games, but the goaltender gave them a chance almost every night. They made the most of it.

Biggest surprise: It’s easy since rarely has anyone seen a playoff match against the dominant Bobrovsky. There’s a reason Lyon entered the playoffs as a starter. Bobrovsky was 24-20-3 in 49 games during the regular season, and his 3.07 GAA ranks him 27th among the 42 NHL goaltenders who have played at least 30 games. But for Bobrovsky and the Panthers, that must seem farfetched.

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